Films, movies, television, books: They all tell stories that allow audiences to see glimpses of themselves. The Lumineers have told their own story in “III,” a 10-track concept album composed of three chapters that follows the fictitious Sparks family.
The tale is grounded. While the story follows the destructive path of addiction as it enters the life of matriarch Gloria in Chapter I, the struggle faced by the family is one recognizable to anyone who’s had a loved one deal with addiction or has faced it themselves.
It’s also a narrative that writers Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites know intimately. Schultz has a homeless relative who has battled mental illness and addiction and Fraites’ brother passed away after a heroin overdose.
Lyrically, The Lumineers use searing imagery, painting a picture with each song. This picture — the life of Gloria, her son Jimmy and her grandson, Junior — is even further illuminated by the heartbreaking short film that accompanies the record.
All in all, the breadth of the project is remarkable. The stunning visual vignettes bring lines to life, such as when Schultz sings, “A little boy was born in February/ You couldn’t sober up to hold a baby” and you watch Gloria fall, clutching her wine glass, with the baby playing on the floor close by.
The songs stand on their own. Removed from the context of the rest of the album, “Life in the City” is just that_a narrative of navigating a difficult and lonely city life. But within the larger story, it is part of Gloria’s battle, as the city entices her with drugs, alcohol and sex.
For their third album, The Lumineers employ their typical sound with piano and the gruff vocals of Schultz pushing to the front. The tracks are not overly produced, giving a raw, emotive feel to each song.
The storyline itself, has moments of hopefulness, but it also makes no promises. While there seems a chance that Junior may escape the cycle of addiction from the generations before him in “Left for Denver,” the ending of the short film is ambiguous, questioning if he does get away.
It’s an appropriate ending, as it mirrors the reality of addiction. There is always a chance that the cycle will end, but to put a pretty little bow around the narrative would be an injustice to the subject. The Lumineers bring moments of hope, but they recognize the lingering darkness of addiction.