It’s time to reevaluate any preconceived conclusions you may have drawn about the Lumineers over their tub thumping, chart topping Ho Hey past. Those halcyon days of devil may care presidential playlist fun and games were glorious indeed, but now it seems it’s time to get serious. Rather than cashing in on the neo-folk knees-up of their 2012 self titled debut these Colorado troubadours have detoured down an altogether more sombre sidewalk. It is, of course, a commercial gamble and yet it feels totally justified. Perhaps this is why they steered clear of all those major labels who tried to capture the bird and clip its wings.
Bringing in Simone Felice of Felice Brothers fame to produce was a masterstroke, if only because they have publicly expressed their appreciation before. Both parties knew they were entering into a relationship based on mutual respect, which is a solid foundation for all that follows. The differences in this second offering are subtle but enduring, perhaps the most obvious being Wesley Schultz’s use of electric guitar, almost Dylan-esque, replacing the predominant acoustic of the first album. This serves to dampen the spirit compared to the bright, jaunty flavour of the first album. From the opening bars of Sleep on the Floor the mood is more temperate, the appetites more restrained. In first single Ophelia Schultz sings ‘When I was younger/Should have known better/And I can’t feel no remorse”. Is it reflection? A coming of age?
There is also a marked absence of those ‘all together now’ type big choruses that so appealed to the mass audiences of former years. Instead the Lumineers now place more emphasis on Schultze’s soaring vocals and he rises to the occasion, frequently calling to mind a young, menacing Rod Stewart. There is a darker edge to all things Lumineer now; Gun Song tells the story of how Schultz found a pistol in his father’s sock drawer, Angela is a well-worn tale of small town girl leaves home but with a forlornness and despair which marks out the Lumineers as the essence of Americana and My Eyes stands out as an example of that rare craft of making a song sound like it was created in a midwest bedroom and a Hollywood studio at the same time – skeletal and yet obese with raw emotion . A solitary piano fades away bringing the album to a close at a mere thirty-five minutes (3 extra tracks on the deluxe version), perhaps a little on the short side.
The Lumineers took their time over the follow-up to their debut album and it shows. Everything about “Cleopatra” is a consequence of a more measured approach. They no longer feel rushed and this stately attitude resonates throughout. Their move away from the radio-friendly soundscapes of dance floor student union halls is admittedly easier to make from a career perspective when you’ve had that radio play to begin with, but with just the one album behind them, perhaps this makes the Lumineers all the more courageous and authentic for having made it.