It has been seven years since The Lumineers first ‘Ho-Hey’d’ their way into the spotlight. Since that point, the band’s first two albums have gone platinum and they have been nominated for every prestigious music award worth knowing about. Seven years later they present III, a concept album accompanied by a cinematic project told in three chapters, with the songs from each chapter focusing on one primary character from the three generations of the fictional Sparks family. The record explores the destruction of addiction. The sound is different, the tone is dark, the album is personal, emotional, raw and captivating.
As the chapters unfold, the listener learns about the struggles of the members of the Sparks family with drug and alcohol addiction. This is a subject very close to the heart of lead vocalist, Wesley Schultz. Chapter I ‘Gloria Sparks’, was inspired by a member of Schultz’s family. “Gloria is an addict and no amount of love or resources could save her. She’s now been homeless for over a year. Loving an addict is like standing among the crashing waves, trying to bend the will of the sea.”
Subsequent chapters focus on Gloria’s grandson Junior Sparks (Chapter II), and then finally the harrowing story of her son Jimmy Sparks (Chapter III), which sees him spiral out of control through drug addiction, alcohol misuse and violence following the death of his wife.
III is largely a step away from previous records Cleopatra and The Lumineers. Late last year cellist Neyla Pekarek left the group and so the band’s hand was forced slightly to step away from their renowned sound. They have since recruited a violin player and a bassist and have found if anything a more authentic sound. There are less stompy clappy Americana bangers than we are used to from this rowdy lot. ‘Gloria’ is the most familiar sounding track on the record, upbeat and cheery – though when you engage with the lyrics – ‘Gloria I smell it on your breath… booze and peppermint… Gloria they found you on the floor’ – the cheer feels more like a desperate front than anything to celebrate. The record in fact is musically excellent, Wesley Schultz’s voice is impeccable. The sound is consistently more raw, laced with hurt and at times hope.
Every track on the album is strong. ‘Salt and The Sea’ is stunningly beautiful, ‘Jimmy Sparks’ and ‘My Cell’ are impressively dark.
The short film which has been released alongside III debuted at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month. In truth, it was not until I watched the extended music video that the album hit home with me and I began to enjoy and appreciate the record for the glorious piece that it is. Much like any record it improves with listens, yet when accompanied by the videos the album becomes a masterpiece. I would truly recommend watching the videos to accompany this record. They are immersive and beautiful and shed a new light on an already very strong album.