The Lumineers – III
Americana | Indie Folk
It’s amazing how albums can suddenly click for you. How you can form an opinion only to do a complete 180 and see it in different light. There have been times where I have sat down and started to write a review, only to delete it all and start again with one taking the complete opposite stance. That was just the situation I found myself in when it came to tackling the new album from The Lumineers.
Really I shouldn’t be surprised, as The Lumineers seem to be one of the bands that has challenged my expectations the most over the years. At first seemingly a one-hit-wonder, they went on to deliver a solid second album with some brilliant stand out moments. Now, rather than capitalise on that trend, they decided to risk it all with an ambitious and hard-hitting concept album. A tale in three parts about the scars of addiction and the effect it has on three generations of the same family.
For a while it felt like, for all of their admirable ambition, they had missed the mark. The hooks are far less prominent than on Cleopatra, III lacks the same joie de vivre of their first two records, and the story is difficult to follow at times. But as time went by, deep in the recesses of my mind each piece of the puzzle slowly fell into place. Tracks like ‘Gloria’ and ‘It Wasn’t Easy To Be Happy For You’, while not as immediate as their earlier hits, definitely grow on you after a few listens. The record’s subject matter certainly requires dialling down on their usual buoyant melodies, but the arrangements are still very much textbook Lumineers, albeit expanding their sound in another direction. Exploring the bittersweet with the piano on ‘Donna’, dabbling in dark drama with ‘My Cell’, having a sojourn in the cinematic on ‘Jimmy Sparks’; all with the band’s unique stamp on them.
While the story is hard to grasp at first, that doesn’t stop this from being their most cohesive work yet. Even if you don’t quite know how, it is clear that all the songs are linked. They all have a purpose, each an important part of the whole. Though there are certainly clearer concept albums, they all need a bit of extra digging to really appreciate, but you don’t get much better supplementary material than each track having a video to tell the story and help you connect the dots. While the album can certainly be appreciated without it, the visuals are a lightbulb moment that enhances the listening experience.
Another surprising aspect of the record is its pacing. The band’s previous releases have been very top heavy, bombarding you with hits and fizzling out, but III‘s cinematic three act structure means that it builds over time towards an impactful conclusion. The final piece of the triptych contains some of their finest work. The dark folk of ‘My Cell’ features Wesley Schultz’s vocals at their best and carries such emotion for such a simple arrangement, like watching shadows dancing on the wall from a single candle. ‘Jimmy Sparks’ is not only the best piece of storytelling within the record, but by far one of the best character driven songs of recent years. Closing track ‘Salt and the Sea’ offers some sublime melodies, stunning piano and understated strings to give this tale of addiction and upheaval an uncharacteristically elegant ending.
This album (and this band in general) can surprise you if you give it the chance. They’ve strayed a long way from their break-out hit, but in doing so they have found a level of depth and maturity to their songwriting that I didn’t think they had in them. Bravo.