The Lumineers New Album

The Lumineers’ newest album, III, released on September 13, is a hauntingly beautiful concept album that illustrates an honest depiction of addiction. III is centered around the story of the fictional Sparks family, following them through three generations through their battles with addiction. The album, written by founding band members Wesley Shultz and Jeremiah Fraites, is divided into three chapters, each focusing on a different family member from each generation. Moreover, III was also transformed into a short film, directed by Kevin Phillips, which visually supplements, and adds context for, the album

Chapter I of III, titled “Gloria Sparks,” focuses on Gloria, the matriarch of the Lumineers’ story. The album’s opening track is called “Donna”—named after Gloria’s mother—illustrates Gloria’s rocky relationship with her mother and how it affected the rest of her life. “Donna” sets the stage for Gloria’s destructive behavior, showing that, because her mother never loved her, she doesn’t know how to love her own children, and then resorts to alcohol as a coping mechanism. The next track, “Life in the City,” continues the description of Gloria’s destructive behavior. Provided the context from the short film, Donna has died and left Gloria her house—the one Gloria grew up in. Consequently, “Life in the City” is about Gloria dealing with this news by having an affair before leaving to settle down with her husband in a house that caused her so much trauma. Finally, “Gloria Sparks” ends with the song “Gloria”—the first of the album to truly tackle what is like to live with someone battling addiction. The lyrics are brutally honest: 

“Gloria, you crawled up on your cross / Gloria, you made us sit and watch.” 

With addiction, it is a disease that not only affects those who are addicted, but those who love that person as well. Through this line, songwriters describe what it is like to watch someone you love be torn apart by addiction and how it feels to be powerless in trying to help them. Welsey Shultz, songwriter and lead singer, said in a tweet, “Gloria is an addict and no amount of love or resources could save her… Loving an addict is like standing among the crashing waves, trying to bend the will of the sea.” 

Chapter II, titled “Junior Sparks,” skips a generation and follows the story of Gloria’s grandson, Junior. The Lumineers introduce Junior through the track “It Wasn’t Easy To Be Happy for You,” in which Junior’s girlfriend breaks up with him, possibly due to the destructive behavior he inherited from his grandmother and father. The next track, “Leader Of The Landslide,” is the strongest of the entire album. Like “Gloria,” it is an extremely honest depiction of trying to love someone battling addiction. In this part of the Sparks’ story, Junior is coming to terms with the fact that he cannot look up to his father anymore due to his addiction. Junior is watching his father spiral after his wife, Junior’s mother, leaves him. “Leader Of The Landslide” above all is an angry song: 

“You told me a lie, fuck you for that / Fuck all your pride and fuck all your prayers / And all this time, I waited like a fool, and for the first time / Finally, I can see you as the leader of the landslide.”

Junior is angry at his father, at the universe, for giving him these circumstances to grow up in. But, in the end, Junior accepts his father for who he truly is: the leader of the landslide, someone who causes the world around him to fall apart. “Junior Sparks” ends with the track “Left For Denver,” which is a melancholy song about Junior’s mother, Bonnie, who left him and his father to start again. The song is sung through Junior’s voice as he asks, “Is it all still for the weekend?,” implying that Bonnie left the family without any closure and left Junior wondering if he did something wrong. Moreover, due to Bonnie’s absence, Junior begins to act up, falling into the familial cycle of destructive behavior. 

Chapter III, the final chapter of III, is titled “Jimmy Sparks,” named after Gloria’s son and Junior’s father, Jimmy. “Jimmy Sparks” is by far the darkest chapter of the album, as the Lumineers begin telling Jimmy’s story at the lowest point of his life—he is a spiralling alcoholic and his wife has left him. “My Cell,” the first song of “Jimmy Sparks,” is sung from Jimmy’s perspective. He feels trapped in his life, repeating the lines “my cell” and “all alone.” The next track, “Jimmy Sparks,” which coins the same name as the chapter itself, describes Jimmy’s past and his gambling tendencies. The song tells the story of two different nights. The first night, Jimmy wakes Junior, who is only a child, and brings him to a bar while Jimmy gambles. As they are driving back home, they pass a hitchhiker and Junior asks if the man is alright. Jimmy tells Junior that “you never give a hitcher a ride 'cause it’s us or them.” Twenty years later, due to Jimmy’s gambling, he is in mountains of debt and the debt collectors strip him of everything he has—shoes, his car. Miles from home, Jimmy begins to walk in the freezing cold and is passed by Junior who is coming home from his night shift. Junior doesn’t stop for Jimmy, remembering his father’s advice. “Jimmy Sparks” is a haunting song due to the lyrics and melody. Shultz explores the questions “Jimmy Sparks” leaves in an NPR interview saying, “I think it has a couple layers to it where you're not really sure why he kept driving and if he even recognized [Jimmy]. If he did, what does that mean?” Shultz goes on to explain that, even though it is dark, anyone who knows an addict would understand and agree with Junior if he decided to leave Jimmy in the cold (NPR). In between “Jimmy Sparks” and the final track, there is a short instrumental interlude called “April.” It is a haunting beautiful tune, providing a “momentary relief from the emotional carnage” (The Lumineers). Finally, “Jimmy Sparks,” and III, end with the track “Salt And The Sea.” It is bittersweet song about the entire Sparks family—the regret and remorse they feel, the longing for a “life unlived,” and a yearning for the chance to start over.

III is by far the darkest album the Lumineers have released—and most listeners do not associate the Lumineers with darkness. To the average radio listener, they would know the Lumineers best from their 2012 radio hit, “Ho Hey,” which is a simple, joyous song. But, as the two songwriters explain, the world and their lives have changed considerably since then. They compare their progression into darkness to the Harry Potter series stating, “Rowlings’ books get progressively darker, and it seems like books age like a person ages. And in a funny way, that’s part of our ambition… We’re allowing our palate to become a little darker” (The Lumineers). Moreover, the subject matter of III was handled respectfully and honestly. Shultz and Fraites were inspired to create III because of situations in their own lives. Gloria was inspired by a member of Shultz’s family and Fraites’ brother died as a result of his addiction. Shultz and Fraites decided to tell the story of the Sparks family generationally and in three acts because, as Fraites said in an NPR interview, “drug addiction or alcoholism really affects the individual and then it has a sort of fallout effect — similar to the effects of a radiation bomb—over time and over years and years, it continually tends to affect people's loved ones” (NPR). The Lumineers, above all, are artists and III is a pleasure to listen to. The Lumineers have earned their gradual descent into darker tones and subject matters and this album does not feel unnatural compared to their other work. This album highlight what the Lumineers do best—poetic lyrics and infectious folk melodies. III leaves me wanting more and I cannot wait to see what the Lumineers do next.