Album Review: The Lumineers – Cleopatra

Cleopatra

lumineers-cleopatraReleased 8th April 2016

Words: Elena Katrina

It’s been such a long wait since Denver’s The Lumineers stormed in and stole my heart (and that of many others) with their massive ear worm of a tune and actually only their debut single proper – Ho Hey. For some this would have been the time at which annoyed them; “their” band had finally made it so big that it became almost impossible to see them live. “Their” band had exploded into the musical stratosphere, and while that would have made them proud, we all know what it’s like feeling like you’re sharing your band around a bit too thinly, after having had them all to yourself a while. Ho Hey was in adverts, it was on heavy rotation on radio and everyone seemed to hum along and chant the chorus, even if it wasn’t on. But for everyone else, who hadn’t really known who this band was before all of those things happened, it was a chance for us to discover a band who take catchy pop hooks, rock riffs, storytelling and folk instrumentation to the next level.

The Lumineers self titled debut album was stuffed full of stunning renditions with story telling at its heart. It easily became one of my favourite albums of the time, so when I heard that the band (who I’d never seen live, until recently) were back and with them had a follow up album, I was both excited and nervous. Follow up albums, as we all know by now, are notoriously difficult beasts and this band had been out of the wider public’s consciousness for quite some time.

So, Cleopatra then, the follow up to one of my favourite albums – how was it going to stand up? Well, I’m pleased to report that it stands up exceptionally well. Taking time away can do a band good; fresh perspectives, reflection and also give the fans a while to crave the new. Despite the few treats in the shape of TV and movie features back in 2014.

Ophelia was the perfect choice from the album to put out there as it’s first taster – quick paced, short n sweet, but that husky raw vocal and style which makes it instantly recognisable as …. well…as The Lumineers.  The rest of the album follows suit, at least in terms of it being recognisable. There’s no big change, none of that “natural progression” from Folk inspired band to middle of the road rock n roll band. There’s no gimmicks needed either, it’s pure with a clear production which captures their live feel pretty damn well.

Music and the delicious tones of lead vocalist Wesley Schultz aside, Cleopatra is an album that really stays true to the ideals of Folk music. It’s an album where each song is a poem, a tale, set to music. Each story weaving a rich tapestry, using music to punctuate, to further express sentiment – much of which is sad, but at times also feverishly uplifting. Each track on the album is a perfect example of the story telling – you can’t say anything else, but Angela is one in particular which sticks with me each and every time. Delicate plucking creates a twinkling and dancing atmosphere and the cello adds an undercurrent of drama which marries so well with the build up of emotion and power as the song progresses, becomes that faster dance before the twirling end sets in and before it takes its closing bow.

The album’s opener Sleep On The Floor is very clever in that it very much has similar musical phrasing to Ho Hey. While it doesn’t in any other way follow suit, it’s an echo back to a sound and a time which, as previously mentioned, is held close in many people’s hearts. To open your new album in this way, intentionally or otherwise, is undeniably a smart move. It says – you remember us, you know we are going to give you something else to love. And love it, I do. I don’t need that big marching sound to capture my attention. We’ve all grown, we still look back fondly, but as with any relationship, musical or otherwise, those first few excited moments can never truly be replicated in any case, and the moments that fuel the relationship become more considered, more rooted and those little looks back still make the butterflies flutter enough to keep it all alive.

While my love for this band is being well nurtured there’s an undeniable heavy heart to be found within the stories on Cleopatra. They don’t come much sadder than Gale Song, even the first musical phrase is melancholy personified and that’s before the vocal story even begins. We stay on this kind of trajectory for the next few tracks but Sick In The Head has an interesting opening – delicate passive aggressive tones; almost too sweet and repetitive guitar pickings against softly sung “fuck um they’re just sick in the head” make for an eerie edge which feels refreshing at this point of the album.

All in all The Lumineers have created an album with Cleopatra which nurtures both band and fan alike. One which plucks at heart strings as much as it does their instrument’s, one that twinkles just when hope feels like it could be lost in a haze of forlorn chords, and an album which has melodies that hold your interest regardless of the emotive outcome. You can wrap yourself up in each and every track, become a different person, see it through their eyes and that dear reader is, in my book, one of the most accomplished things a song writer can do. So difficult second album? No such thing this time around.

Listen to Cleopatra here:

 

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    Popped Music has been going since Feb 2010.

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