Sound — 6
Being struggling musicians for a decade, Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites spent a lot of those years spitballing what music to practice and where to practice it before founding The Lumineers, an echo of the indie folk success of Mumford & Sons, in the lush indie music scene of Denver, Colorado. And after all that struggle and search for a music identity, the new band's first single, the chart-topping "Ho Hey," would skyrocket the band into pop stardom, and their debut self-titled album would also top numerous Billboard charts, as well as earn Grammy nominations for Best New Band and Best Americana Album.
As undeniably gratifying as the initial success must have been, Schultz had expressed his happiness with a sensible groundedness, not wanting to get swept away by the manic and fleeting likes of pop music fame. On their follow-up album, "Cleopatra," The Lumineers display that groundedness by not amplifying their catchiness or appealing stronger to the pop tropes that a chart-topping band would expect to, and instead opt to be softer. Most indicatively in this initiative, Schultz's voice sounds much more lonesome and downcast in songs like "Sleep on the Floor," "In the Light" and "Gale Song," albeit drenched in more reverb than before. Also never employing singalong sections, but just the rare touch of added harmonies, this modesty has his vocal melodies wielding a very humble catchiness, and regardless of success (like in "Angela") or failure (like in "Gun Song"), solace can be taken in the fact that the vocals aren't shamelessly engineered to be the next singalong smash hit.
In similar modesty, instrumental arrangements generally show more restraint as well. While some songs do build up to the rousing indie folk likes of the band's debut album - like "Sleep on the Floor," the saloon piano pep of "Ophelia," and the penultimate "My Eyes" - it's the delicate minimalism which sticks out more in "Cleopatra," like in "Gun Song," the 5/4 flow of "Long Way From Home," and the short piano outro of "Patience." However, "Sick in the Head" sullies that goal with a few production missteps; along with the overzealous lo-fi vibe being as pseudo-humble as designer yoga pants, the glossy tones that peek in at the end essentially break the organic vibe that other songs maintain. And some repeated songwriting ideas also appear, like the unkempt guitar riff of "Gale Song" sounding much like the following "Long Way From Home," and though the eponymous song is put together well, its main melody sounding quite similar to the previous album's "Charlie Boy" is a lackluster discovery.
Lyrics — 8
With the biggest theme of the album being a sense of belonging, Schultz's lyrics in "Cleopatra" paint plenty of perspectives and sentiments tackling the dichotomy between blazing one's trail of life untethered to the past and properly staying connected to the past. While "Sleep on the Floor" shows the liberating decision of escaping the fate of smalltown placidness for the better ("'Cause if we don't leave this town / We might never make it out / I was not born to drown"), other narratives highlight the ones left behind, expressing sorrowful sentiments of abandonment in "Ophelia" ("'Honey, I love you,' that's all she wrote / Ophelia, you've been on my mind, girl, like a drug"), "Cleopatra" ("And I left the footprints, the mud stained on the carpet / And it hardened like my heart did when you left town"), and the long distance romance in "Gale Song" has the first person going from anticipating the return of his old flame ("And you'll be home in spring / I can't wait 'til then") to taking his own leave from home ("'Cause I don't wanna go / But it's time to leave / You'll be on my mind, my destiny"). "Long Way From Home" takes the heartbreak cake, however, where the one who ran away now regrets the decision after learning that one of their parents is dying ("I flew far away, as far as I could go / Your time is running out / And I'm a long way from home").
Overall Impression — 7
In a similar vein of how Of Monsters And Men followed up their initially infectious indie folk popularity with a more downcast demeanor, The Lumineers made a bold and respectable choice by going for a more reserved sound in "Cleopatra" rather than simply trying to recapture the exact same thing that brought them their success in the first place. Though "Cleopatra" comes with its faults, the humble sound and slice-of-life stories it dishes out makes for more substantial folk music than hyperbolic songwriting that relentlessly begs you to clap and sing along to.