The Lumineers – Cleopatra: A Despairing Beauty

Only fools would fall in love…

Ask an acquaintance or colleague, and they’ll tell you I like action. Ask a friend, and they’ll respond with animation. And yet, ask family, and they’ll inform you about my passion for art. In short, I love a good tale. While I may have to fully confess that I also indulge in tales of love as well, but one thing about me might be a bit, well…odd. And that is that I almost equally enjoy the tales of loss. No, I don’t necessarily enjoy seeing heartbreak, or wishing people any ill will. But I am intrigued by compelling, inspiring, and even realistic tales. And while there is happiness, humor, horror, and adventure in the world, so is there sadness. To completely ignore what many in this world are feeling would be a ruse.

This, as a hind sighted guess, must have been the mentality of The Lumineers when approaching new material for their long awaited (4 years in fact) Sophomore Album, Cleopatra. For the most part in this short lived album (clocking in under 35 mins), long gone are the care free tunes of Ho Hay and Submarine (though their self-titled had its equal share of tragedy). The approach this go-around resulted in what seems to be various and independent tales of love, life, and above all, individual loss.  Whether these stories are based on fiction or truth is never revealed. With themes involving despair, desired companionship, and mortality, you know the stakes will be high (and bleak).

Let me start by saying, the Lumineers depute is something I hold very dear, so my expectations were unrealistically high (whether intended or not). By first glance at the album (and possibly twice or thrice, depending on you), Cleopatra left much to be desired. While it kicks off to a slow yet inspiring sound, it still had a kick or two that looked back to previous Lumineers years. But after about track 4, the album stands firm in a somber and melancholy tune that consists of Wesley Schultz’ traditional vocals, a subtle acoustic guitar, and a slow pluck of an electric guitar or two (which in and of itself, is unique for them). But being fully fair, the piano seen in the music ballad of Patience and the catchy Ophelia (a “silent film” sounding tune that could very well be among the most inspiring and catchy songs of the year) is a thrill to hear. Ultimately, the frustratingly low key vibe was something that time has made me appreciate. This album is restrained, dignified, unapologetically simplistic, and rather mature when thinking of other groups who try to flaunt themselves come sophomore album time. The album’s sound and art, while ultimately needing a boost or two in the second half, definitely is one to appreciate with a little labor of love. But the real “brow-raiser” is the lyrics and themes…

As was stated previously, this album is largely looking to love and devastating loss. While there are 2 or 3 exceptions, they are few and far between. With despair comes, at times, the graphic and unflinching nature and feelings we as humans go through. In such songs as Angela, In the Light, and Gale’s Song (a favorite of mine – featured on Hunger Games: Catching Fire) we find songs of reminiscing the pain and decisions that brought us (and the characters of these tales) to this point. Other songs such as Long Way from Home and My Eyes demonstrate the hopeless feeling of a life and innocence lost, whether it be from cruel lovers or a life of drugs. But other unfortunate themes are present, such as the reaction to almost blame God or others who care for you during such moments. These frustrating elements are seen in Long Way from Home and Cleopatra. Like I said, this album shows us the areas of life that are sometimes difficult to observe. Even the happier songs have their murky moments: Sleep on the Floor (a fantastic introduction to the album) seems to disrespect religion and parents, Ophelia (my favorite) tells the tale of a lover who has trouble by being disconnected, The Gun Song is a humorous look at Schultz discovering his late father’s love/protection for his family by finding his old gun (proclaiming an S word when he finds it, unfortunately. Sick in the Head also has an F bomb. So, I will be editing those songs for sure). Even in the devastation, all these songs have redeeming and very human qualities. And the thoughts and feelings might be a lot closer to what we go through (bad words aside) then we would like to admit.

The pinnacle song in the album that seems to stress all the components to unhinged and controversial peaks is none other than Cleopatra. So, I found it fitting to review this song for our conclusion. Within this difficult and multilayered song, we find the tale of a poor girl who has fallen in love with a married man. Sad, right? Whether we would like to admit it or not, we have all of us felt troublesome feelings for either a person we ought not be with, or lusted in a manner that is unpleasing to God. Cleopatra’s reaction is that of, sadly, many people who fall for someone/thing they ought not. She blames God (“the church discouraged”), she makes herself the martyr, and initially says she’ll continue in this affair as far as he wants it to go (“D**n your wife, I’ll be your mistress.”). Like I said, an overly realistic look at many individual’s assumption of love. That is what makes it such a tragic song, and an album. It paints the picture of many who have hurt because of this very skewed or uncommitted (by unfaithful lovers) view of love. But before you write off old Cleopatra, she seems to still understand that even though this world, this shrewd married man, and this false pretense of a beautiful thing has all been unfair to her, she cannot/is unable to do carry it through. It is painted as an area of defeat and tragic sadness when she proclaims that she has no future but to die alone, and to live the life forced upon her in poverty. When she finally breaks off this sinful lust, she is at a place where many in this world wish not to be, alone. But she does so anyways. Why? If you leave it up to other writers, they’ll say society didn’t accept it. But the ambiguity of the ending leaves me to believe she did so because it was right. And it is for that reason, I believe, that we see her looking to a different and more vibrant future, “I WON’T be late for this, late for that, late for the love of my life.”

This album has many controversial, depressing, and slow moments. It is for that, you might find it a lost cause (and in fairness, that could be right). But if you are able to give it time, see the difficulties, not as flaunts, but as admissions of character struggles, then you might see that not all love is for fools.

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