After releasing album III the Lumineers prove once again their ability to write a commanding album through their unique storytelling, classic Americana style and narrative vignettes.
The third of their albums, III tells the story of the fictional Sparks family, detailing addiction and the effect it has on the family.
The band divided the album into three chapters, with each chapter telling the story of a different member of the Sparks family. Chapter 1, made up of “Donna,” “Life in the City” and “Gloria,” depicts Gloria, a struggling addict and new mother.
The first song of the chapter, “Donna,” begins the album on a somber and haunting note, repeating a soft piano scale throughout and describing Gloria’s mother, Donna, as someone who “couldn’t sober up to hold a baby.” “Life in the City,” a particularly beautiful ballad, gives off a warm feeling through its heavy use of drums and pretty piano medley. “Gloria,” the most commercially successful song of the album thus far, has catchy guitars and airy pianos in contrast with its sad lyrics.
Chapter 2 chronicles the life of Junior Sparks, Gloria’s grandson, through tracks “It Wasn’t Easy to be Happy for You,” “Leader of the Landslide” and “Left for Denver.” The songs highlight how the family’s cycle of addiction deeply affects Junior from a young age.
A standout in Chapter 2 and the album as a whole, “It Wasn’t Easy to be Happy for you” focuses on the difficulty of recovering from a breakup. Slow acoustic guitar, tambourine and lead singer Wesley Schultz’ uniquely rough yet tender voice give the song a classic folk sound. The rawness of the recording is reminiscent of Indie rock band the Decemberists and makes the listener feel as if they are hearing it live.
The musical tone of the album becomes increasingly depressing as in Chapter 3, the songs “My Cell,” “Jimmy Sparks,” “April” and “Salt and the Sea” depict the story of Jimmy Sparks, son of Gloria and father to Junior. Each song is hauntingly sad, but none more so than “Jimmy Sparks.” A definite standout, the Lumineers tell the story in a heart wrenchingly simple way, but with more instrumental elements than usual. As the tale of Jimmy Sparks unfolds and the music builds powerfully, they reveal a tragic twist that ties the bow on the incredibly sad story of the Sparks family.
Each song in the album is unique and interesting alone, but together as a body of work, the story they tell is complex, beautiful and painfully real for many. Part of the gritty realness the Lumineers achieve in their story of addiction comes from personal losses; lead singer Schultz lost his brother to a long struggle with addiction.
The Lumineers are gifted storytellers, using vivid imagery and specific details that evoke deeper meanings and emotions to tell heartbreaking stories. While many artists release music videos to accompany their songs, the Lumineers take the art form to a whole new level. With their previous album, “Cleopatra,” the band released beautifully shot and interwoven vignettes to accompany certain tracks. Eventually, the vignettes combined into one emotional short film entitled “The Ballad of Cleopatra,” which tells the story of an old woman reflecting on choices she could have made and how they would have changed her life. Showing the characters’ emotions and actions on screen gave the audience a more in-depth look at the true story on which certain songs were based.
The Lumineers achieve something similar with III, the band is releasing a short film with a different vignette from the film accompanying each song. Each video showcases gorgeous cinematography and plays as much of a part in the storytelling of the album as the music does. Directed by Kevin Phillips, the short film premiered at the 2019 Toronto Film Festival on Sept. 8.
The Lumineers created a masterpiece of an album. Their emphasis on storytelling and originality in everything they do stands out in a culture of music that is so often meaningless and money driven. They took creative risks to face difficult and dark topics head-on, and they have a beautiful album to show for it.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Release Date: Sept. 13