The Lumineers do more than defend their title as storytelling heavyweights in their third full-length album “III.” The album is told from the point of view of a multi-generational family whose lives ultimately intertwine. The Lumineers rely on the strong characterization of fictional people to take listeners on a journey through three different lifetimes. The band also created a short film to accompany each song while also splitting the album into three different chapters, one for each family member. The album and short film cover the addiction, mental illness and crime that plague the fictional Sparks family.
The first chapter begins with Gloria, the matriarch of the Sparks family. “Donna” is the first song featured on the album and delicately balances with a sound that begins as lullaby-like and slowly grows into a more aggressive piano-heavy song. The vocals are unrefined and gritty, which adds to the rawness of the song. The lyrics describe Gloria Sparks, the daughter of Donna with lines like “You love to judge strangers’ karma / We drove from New Jersey / The trucks always made you worry.” The characterization is so vivid that it allows listeners to get a sense of who each character is in a matter of just a few lines. The lyrics in “Donna” wonderfully set the stage for the songs that follow.
The next song off the album, “Life in the City,” continues to follow the life of Gloria Sparks and her adventures in New York City. She uses the city as a getaway and a place to escape being a mother to her son and a bored housewife. Musically, the track is full of build-up and breaks in music as if to show time passing. The upbeat sound is juxtaposed with the melancholic lyrics like, “And if the subways flood and bridges break / Will you just lay down and dig your grave? / Or will you rail against your dying day?” The lyrics describe Gloria’s demons as something that she cannot run away from no matter how far she gets away from home.
“Gloria,” named after the protagonist battling alcoholism, has a carefree sound yet describes the detrimental impact her addiction has had on her loved ones. The first two lines of the song, “Gloria, I smell it on your breath / Gloria, booze and peppermint” emphasize her desperate attempts to mask her drunkenness.
The track has a grassroots and earthy vibe while also keeping up with the storytelling nature of the album as a whole. The repetition of “Gloria” at the beginning of questions directed at the protagonist shows the frequency of her destructive behavior and how often it gets in the way of her being a mother.
During the second part of the tracklist, the album jumps to the third generation and covers the destructive grandson of Gloria, Junior with the song “It Wasn’t Easy to Be Happy for You.” The song title doubles as the chorus and tells the story of Jimmy being left by his girlfriend for another man. His tale proves that his grandmother’s addiction and mental illness was passed down to other generations as well.
A standout track from third and final part of the album is “My Cell” which is told by the now-adult son of Gloria, Jimmy. The song is raw and simple. The vocals are strained, whispered and almost sound like the vocalist is holding back tears. The lyrics “My cell/ My pretty little cell” are echoed over and over again, creating the feeling that the song was recorded in an empty house. Jimmy reflects on his life, how he wound up all alone and the current state of his relationship with his son and ex-wife.
The Lumineers do not disappoint with “III” and find a way to captivate listeners through anecdotal lyrics and an authentic alternative-folk sound.