Following the unexpected success of their self-titled debut album from 2012, The Lumineers created big expectations and four years of anticipation for their second project, “Cleopatra.” After peaking at No. 3 on the Hot 100 with “Ho Hey,” the indie-folk band enjoyed sold out shows and critical success, but in the process made for themselves the daunting task of following up. And they did – in a big way.
From the first powerful strum of the guitar on the opening track “Sleep on the Floor,” to the beautiful instrumental finale “Patience,” “Cleopatra” shows remarkable improvements both musically and lyrically.
The songwriting team of Wesley Shultz (lead vocals and guitar) and Jeremiah Fraites (drums) proves their storytelling skill on songs like “Cleopatra,” about a lonely woman growing old and “Long Way From Home” which tells the story of Shultz’s father’s death to cancer.
The songs can be sad and provoking, escaping the catchy and uplifting sound of “Ho Hey,” but at the same time also offering signs of hope. The sadness is most present mostly in the stories, but they do offer some hope as well, such as in “Sleep On The Floor,” which counters a looming disaster with sort of a reluctant inspiration: “cause if we don’t leave this town, we might never make it out, I was not born to drown, baby come on.”
Similarly, “Angela” tells the story of leaving home in search of something new, with a foot-stomping and uplifting chorus that yells “home at last.” This theme of leaving home and starting over is common and reflects the lives of the band members themselves. With the deaths of close family members and moving from New Jersey to Colorado, the band has an array of real life experience to write about, making each song so much more powerful and emotional.
“Cleopatra” doesn’t try to emulate or capitalize on the happy sound of “Ho Hey” – it even seems to deliberately avoid it – but what the album does is use simple chord progressions backed by a cello and scarce percussion, both changing and improving on the sound that was used on their debut. Shultz’s electric guitar is played like an acoustic, with a combination of loud open chords and simple finger-picking, but also with an echoing distortion that gives the album an eerie and ominous sound.
The Lumineers cite many of the greats as inspiration, like Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, but what the group resembles most on “Cleopatra” is the soft voice and soft electric sound of Jeff Buckley. “My Eyes” sounds like something straight off of Buckley’s “Grace” (1997) and Shultz’ raspy but versatile voice is the perfect folk version of his.
This album is one of the best follow ups in recent memory and despite its lack of another “Ho Hey,” “Cleopatra” proves the Lumineers is one of the most talented groups in music and paves the way for much more music to come. The electric guitar, the indie-folk roots and the beautiful songwriting is what makes them so unique and so fun to listen to.