Riding piggyback with Mumford & Sons as purveyors of the new populist folk, The Lumineers made a strong case their first time out that indeed, like the Mumfords, they’d be a band to reckon with.
Their song “Ho Hey” became an anthem, thanks to a catchy chorus that deemed it a popular sing-along, a radio favorite and part of the summer’s soundtrack. Little matter that the rest of the band’s repertoire never ascended to those heights. The Lumineers had their hit, and it was enough to net some notice.
Fast-forward three years and we find the band eyeing a challenge common to every artist facing their follow-up. Having another song in their back pocket as catchy and contagious as “Ho Hey” undoubtably would have helped, but might also have brought accusations that they were merely repeating their formula. So instead they ignored the obvious by taking more of a laidback and seemingly nonchalant approach to this sophomore set. Apart from “Ophelia” and “Cleopatra,” it offers little with the potential to set the charts alight. Instead, it mines a sound that’s not nearly as immediate or even as accessible. For the most part, Cleopatra creates a slow drift, manifest in a sound that’s far too elusive for immediate gratification. More shoe-gazing than head-nodding, it takes a lazy spin at a leisurely pace, allowing the possibility listeners may find themselves dozing off along the way.
To be sure, there are several songs here that provide momentary pleasures, “Sleep On The Floor” and “Angela” among them. But that one-time feeling of Saturday night celebration has now been dissipated and replaced by a hazy hangover the Sunday morning after. How this affects their continuing trajectory remains to be seen. After all, immediate success does often lead to a sophomore slump. While Cleopatra may seduce the faithful, it would be far better if next time The Lumineers are able to regain their groove.
Lee Zimmerman, Paste Magazine, 4/8/16