In The Lumineers’ second most recent album, Cleopatra (2016), the first song listed is one of my favorites: “Sleep On The Floor“. Most consider this the Lumineers’ the best album, and it is also the most popular through the years, according to Spotify. The Lumineers is a folk-rock band, popular among indie music listeners and pop music listeners alike. This song is also part of a short film, “The Ballad of Cleopatra”, which includes multiple music videos from the album and tells the story of a man and his lover moving in search of adventure and a new life.
The song begins with the now-famous lyrics,
Pack yourself a toothbrush dear
Pack yourself a favorite blouse
These lines introduce both the song and the album perfectly. While the album, in general, focuses on adventure in a more metaphorical sense, like the adventures of love, heartbreak, and travel, “Sleep On The Floor” is a literal representation of a young couple who decides to escape their small town and chase their dreams before it is too late. The toothbrush mentioned is a symbol of uncertainty and travel, as toothbrushes are quintessential parts of packing. The narrator of the song admits there will be hardship, that there will be the problem of money and the strings left behind from their old lives, but he uses these in his argument to his girlfriend/lover that it is even more of an experience. This song also draws on the theme many youth encounter of wanderlust, but more so the feeling that there is life outside of their town, and that they have to go find it immediately or they will end up like their parents.
The song’s narrator builds depth by including religious allegories twice within the song.
Forget what Father Brennan said
We were not born in sin
Jesus Christ can’t save me tonight
The singer/poet grapples with religious themes that he either grew up hearing about or were forced on him from childhood. The words “not born in sin” refers to the original sin committed by Adam and Eve, and “Jesus Christ can’t save me” continues this allusion. Both lines, rather than embracing religion, depict the narrator as rejecting religion in his hope to reject his whole life. Religion perhaps ties him to the town he wants to escape, and in his mind casting away the constraints of Christianity is a necessary element of his journey to freedom.
This song also includes many metaphors, the most interesting of which is inspired by big cities:
If the sun don’t shine on me today
And if the subways flood and bridges break
The narrator uses city disasters to explain the crushing hopelessness of his feeling living in his town, and he would rather face uncertainty in a world beyond his comfort zone. This song was also inspired, according to the Lumineers, by young people moving to cities in search of their dreams or the American Dream. The use of subways flooding and bridges breaking within the lyrics implies the possibility that the city will not support them, that their dreams will be broken. Despite this, he urges his lover to take that chance with him. Additionally, the lyrics state,
And when we looked outside, couldn’t even see the sky
This is a figure of speech or more accurately a reference to one. This is a changed version of the saying, “the sky’s the limit”. Since the sky was not even visible, the singer means that there are limitless possibilities for their new life. It creates a contradiction with this popular line, since he argues even the sky will not limit them, and they would be completely free.
This song is the perfect beginning to the album and story of Cleopatra, beginning with a strong opening note and a nostalgic tone, recreating for older listeners a long-forgotten feeling of youthful uncertainty, and for younger listeners a voiced explanation of their desires for escape.