Album Center Stage: The Lumineers “Cleopatra”

The Lumineers, a folk rock band from Ramsey New Jersey, released their first album in three years. Cleopatra debuted on April 8th, 2016. Their multiplatinum hit single “Hey Ho” in 2012, propelled their self titled album, The Lumineers to peak at number 2 on the Billboard 200 charts. They followed the musical success of that album with a tour and other singles, namely Submarines“. In 2014 the band began working on a follow up album which later became Cleopatra. 

The title track, “Cleopatra”came from a conversation band member Wesley Schultz had with a taxi driver in the Republic of Georgia. The driver spun a tale of personal heartbreak and sadness, themes that permeate through the collection. The album cover, a black and white photo of silent movie star Theda Bara, is from the titled film Cleoptra made in 1917. The single releases from the album have been “Ophelia”, “Cleopatra”, and “Angela”. All of the tracks on the album were written and composed by band members Wesley Shultz and Jeremiah Fraites with the exception of the tracks noted:

Track Listings:

  • “Sleep on the Floor”
  • “Ophelia”
  • “Cleopatra” (co-written with Simone Felice)
  • “Gun Song”
  • “Angela”(co-written with Felice)
  • “In the Light”
  • “Gale Song”(co-written with Neyla Pekarek)
  • “Long Way from Home”
  • “Sick in the Head”
  • “My Eyes”(co-written with Pekarek)
  • “Patience”

Deluxe version bonus tracks

  • “Where the Skies Are Blue”
  • “Everyone Requires a Plan”
  • “White Lie”
  • Cleopatra” (Live)

Thematically, the album permeates the concepts of escapism, fame, loss and the  instability of love. The opening track “Sleep on the Floor” is an imploring plead for freedom. The lyrics suggest, “Because if we don’t leave this town, we might never make it out. I was not born to drown. Baby c’mon”. There’s a challenging desperation in this statement track.

Three out of the next four tracks are female titled. “Ophelia”, “Cleopatra” and “Angela”. Ophelia is an upbeat tune with cascading piano sounds over the acoustic guitar. The lyrics echo the nostalgic sentiment of a past love gone, a feeling that also ricochets through the piano and slow clapping laced latter track “In the Light”.

“Cleopatra” continues the paced tempo of “Ophelia” and is the title track for the album. The imagery of freedom and opportunities missed highlight the story of the protagonist who laments “I was late for this, late for that, late for the love my life. When I die alone I”ll be on time”. “Angela” builds on the concept of running away with lyrics suggesting, “strangers in this town they raise you up just to cut you down.” The word “hopeless” echoes as the song builds with handclaps and pace until the tune ends with descending strums and simmering vocal hums.

Fragmented or glimpsed storytelling takes a darker turn in tracks like “Gun Song”, “Long Way from Home”, and “Sick in the Head.” The songs are filled with stern imagery of family dynamic, distance, unmet expectations, sickness, and death. They are not similarly structured in sound and exist in a diverse spectrum from hard strums in “Gun Song” to light acoustic picking in “Sick In the Head”.

“Gale Song” was highlighted on the soundtrack for the film The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The slow  track fit the feature film’s concepts of distance, romantic breakage, and emotional breakage. The song expels, “I couldn’t know what’s in your mind but saw the pictures you’re looking fine. And there was a time that I stood in line for love, for love, for love but I let you go.” This track portrays resolute loneliness over beautifully strummed chords.

“My Eyes” and “Patience” are intertwined tracks that close out the album. “My Eyes” is a slow tune of questioning and personal disarray that can come with fame. The song laments “The glow of Hollywood signs. They sold you a bridge. They fed you the lines. You always confuse your servants for friends. But you couldn’t see how it ends.” The track serves as a verbal warning and is one of the stronger tracks on the record. “Patience” is a melodic piano outro. It flows seamlessly behind “My Eyes” to a point where most listeners can’t tell where on track ends and the next begins.

The album stays true to The Lumineers voice, storytelling vision, and sound. The lyrics are direct and leave you emotionally upheaved. Coupled by a good acoustic rhythms and harmony, it becomes an album for somber nights and adventurous days.

Listen to Cleopatra here:

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