Pillbox

The Lumineers' III

The Lumineers transgress music industry tradition with their newest album, III. Rather than take the typical route, they told a story in three parts, releasing three songs at a time in their EPs, Gloria and II, before finishing the narrative with four new songs, which got
compiled into the complete 10-song album. In addition to this unique and emotional three-chapter album, the Lumineers document the tumultuous generations of the fictional Sparks family through short films that coincide with each song.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, The Lumineers’ percussionist Jeremiah Fraites explained that III “thematically deals with not just addiction and alcoholism, but how you continue to love a person in the wake of the trauma they cause.”

Lumineers bandmates Fraites and Wesley Schultz have first-hand experience with a loved one suffering from addiction, and listening to III, you can instantly tell that they poured their souls into their music.

The first chapter is about Gloria Sparks. The first song, “Donna,” gives off a nostalgic, but melancholy vibe, juxtaposing Gloria Sparks’ current life with her husband and baby to her childhood growing up with her mother Donna.

The second verse of the song is the most potent and sets the tone for the rest of the album: “If you don’t have it, then you’ll never give it / And I don’t blame you for the way you livin’ / The little boy was born in February / You couldn’t sober up to hold a baby.” It establishes how Gloria’s lack of love from her mother growing up influences her own role as a mother, and how her addiction is rooted deeper than just the individual level.

The video opens with Gloria with her husband and baby posing for portraits, but having trouble getting everyone to focus at the same time. Rather than being a humorous moment, however, you can see the exhaustion in the parents’ faces. Next, it zooms into their home, revealing Gloria catching herself from a fall between the piano and the baby’s crib, with the baby watching from the corner innocently. While Gloria climbs into bed, it reveals her tear-soaked face staring at a portrait of her parents on the bedside table, then cuts to flashbacks of her parents, baby Gloria crying, gravestones of her parents, and then fast-forwards to her own baby sitting on the floor confusedly looking into the camera.

In “Life in the City,” the Lumineers give a very brief sense of hope of traveling to a new city, but the “dream, it died” and there is a realization that “living life in the city […] will never be pretty.” The video follows Gloria as she goes to a bar, does a line in the bathroom, then hooks up with someone she meets at the counter, before returning home to her sleeping family and putting her wedding ring back on.

The close of the first chapter, “Gloria,” left me in tears, diving deep into the addiction, with evocative imagery in the lyrics and the film. The song is a plea for Gloria to slow down, pointing out “I smell it on your breath […] booze and peppermint,” and asking, “Gloria, did you finally see that enough is enough?” The tempo also fits with the urgency of the lyrics and the scenes, from her husband coming home to her on the floor, her mouth foaming and her body twitching, the baby in the background crying, to Gloria sneaking drinks behind the house and fighting with her husband.

The second chapter chronicles Junior Sparks’ teenage years as he struggles at home with his father Jimmy and his absent mother Bonnie. “It Wasn’t Easy to Be Happy for You” starts with the heartbreak of a girlfriend leaving him, and “Leader of the Landslide” picks up with him recognizing the toxic nature of his family, with his alcoholic father being the titular “leader of the landslide.”

The video emotionally showcases Junior’s relationship with his father, as he continuously drinks and throws parties, beating Junior and pulling a gun when he rejects his father’s offerings of alcohol. By the end, Junior runs out while the rest of the party disperses or lies on the floor laughing deliriously. Similar to “Gloria,” the tempo and video perfectly match in intensity. Last of the chapter is “Left For Denver,” capturing the pain of Junior’s mother leaving him behind.

The last chapter explores Jimmy Sparks, the father of Junior and son of Gloria. The videos for the last four songs have yet to be released on YouTube, although the complete film appeared at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 8.

These four songs are rather despondent additions to the album, but Schultz’ haunting vocals really make the song stand out from the rest. “Jimmy Sparks” specifically dives into the details of Jimmy’s difficulties in his relationship with Bonnie and trying to save his sick son by making quick money at the casino, and it only spirals from there. “April” is a short instrumental, but the music is no less heart-wrenching than the rest of the Jimmy Sparks chapter. The conclusion to the album, “Salt and the Sea,” was actually the song that started it all, with darker undertones than a lot of their previous music that helped them shape the stories of Gloria, Junior, and Jimmy Sparks.

Although I enjoyed the Lumineers’ previous two albums, I actually did not follow III as it was released chapter by chapter throughout the year and had no idea what to expect. However, the album completely surpassed any expectations I could have possibly had. Although definitely heavier than some of their other work, III is a well-crafted narrative and a candid exploration of addiction that should not be missed.