Haunting. Mournful. Windswept. Arid. Spare. Wistful.
The second alt-folk effort from The Lumineers, Cleopatra, is one of those brooding, cinematic soundscapes that encourages listeners to pluck estranged synonyms out of the emotional ether.
Longing. Yearning. Regret.
Its collection of stories are about young lovers making a run for it, old lovers lamenting the one who got away, and a son watching his beloved father suffer and die. In all that, the band’s signature “Ho Hey”-style claps and stomps are present but subdued.
Heartrendingly solemn is “Long Way From Home,” on which a man who fled from his father’s terminal illness is nonetheless present at the moment of death: “Laid up in bed, you were laid up in bed/Holding the pain like you’re holding your breath/I prayed you could sleep, sleep like a stone/You’re right next to me/But you’re a long way from home.” The song’s conclusion hints at a hope for at least some sort of afterlife: “‘More morphine,’ the last words you moaned/At last I was sure/That you weren’t far from home.”
Quietly poignant, “Gun Song”—about a son finding his father’s firearm—watches him struggling to carve out an identity in his dad’s shadow (“And one day, I pray, I’ll be more than my father’s son/But I don’t own a single gun”). “Angela” begs a wild-hearted, independent woman to come home for good to the man who loves her.
“My Eyes” reads as a cautionary tale about a woman seeking fame in Hollywood who is then taken for a ride by the metaphorical devils waiting for naïfs like her (“Oh, the devil’s inside/You opened the door/You gave him a ride/Too young to know, too old to admit/That you couldn’t see how it ends/ … The glow of Hollywood signs/They sold you a bridge”).
Simon & Garfunkel-esque “In the Light” mingles angst and loss with a stubborn determination to redeem wasted time in a relationship (“Time, give me all my yesterdays/ … Hold me and don’t you ever let this die”). “Sick in the Head” also strives to make the most of what limited time we have (“I will not be here forever, dear/So let’s just make this count a lot in here”). “Sleep on the Floor” preaches perseverance and determination (“Will you lay yourself down and dig your grave?/Or will you rail against your dying day?”), but …
… this song about two young people fleeing their suffocating small town (“If we don’t leave this town/We might never make it out/ … Leave a note on your bed/Let your mother know we’re safe”) also indulges the stark rejection of both sin and of Jesus: “Forget what Father Brennan said/We were not born in sin/ … Jesus Christ can’t save me tonight.” “Long Way From Home” talks of praying for a father who is suffering but also suggests that prayers for healing went unheard and unheeded (“God and medicine take no mercy on him”).
“Cleopatra” tells the grimly tragic tale of star-crossed lovers, divorce, desire for adultery (“D–n your wife, I’d be your mistress just to have you around”) and death (“When I die alone … when I die, I’ll be on time”). Similarly mournful is “Gale Song,” on which a broken—perhaps suicidal—man fails to come to grips with letting his beloved (who’s now with someone else) go: “And there was a time when I stood in line/For love, for love, for love/But I let you go, oh, I let you go/ … And this blood, this blood, this blood/Oh, it drains from my skin, it does.”
“Angela” alludes to a couple sharing a hotel room (“Vacancy, hotel room, lost in me, lost in you”). The album includes an f-word and an s-word.
Cleopatra is an 11-song meditation on loss. Oh, there are moments when hope is in the ascendant, buoyed by honest, vulnerable insight. But mostly the band delivers spare, pain-laced reflections on missed opportunities and the final separation of death.
Worse, blunt and repeated denunciations of religion, the idea of sin and Jesus Himself cast an even blacker shadow across Cleopatra. More often than not, these songs suggest that spiritual solace in seasons of loss and bewilderment is only a mirage. The characters in these tragic narratives are ultimately bereft of anything spiritual, anything substantive in which they might place their hope.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.