For their latest album, The Lumineers follow the old adage of “three times’ a charm.” The project’s title is III – the narrative is told through three different acts – and this just happens to be their third official studio release. Oh, and this is by far their most thorough representation of any topic they’ve explored.
The Denver folk balladeers travel a much darker path on III, trading nostalgic tales about love and romance for heart-wrenching folk tunes detailing the treacherous affects of alcoholism and drug addiction. Whereas Cleopatra dealt with its themes through a re-imagining of a prior Shakespeare play, III follows a realistic tragedy through the lens of a dedicated loved one and the addicts themselves. And while the characters are still fictional, the stories are painfully personal (very reminiscent of Raphael Saadiq’s own album from a few weeks back).
For the first time in the band’s career, Wesley Schultz’s heavily-reverbed vocals carry a prophetic weight to the gentle acoustic strumming and apprehensive piano keys. Their songwriting finally matches their ambitions.
Never is this more apparent than on the allegorical “Leader of the Landslide”-a two-part cataclysm illustrating a change in attitude from the perspective of the loved one taking care of the addict. The agonizing tale begins with a subtle reminder about the trials and tribulations each subject much face (“Been on your side for years/You could never love without crying”). A sudden change in urgency envelopes the latter half, where Schultz suddenly shows a lack of patience for the person he’s stood by for years-illustrating a difficult situation for everyone involved (“The only thing i know is we’re in too deep/And maybe when she’s dead and gone, I’ll get some sleep”). I can’t help but think about Felix van Groenigen’s film Beautiful Boy-specifically a scene where Timothee Chalamet’s character is sprawled out on a bathroom after his father finally had enough of dealing with his addiction. “Leader of the Landslide” covers that arduous experience.
Much like with Cleopatra, The Lumineer’s newest album will be accompanied with a short film depicting the isolation each character faces when dealing with alcoholism and drug addiction. For now, there’s music videos available on Youtube for two-thirds of the project.
Because of their tendency to over-complicate certain aspects of the story, some songs leave a lesser impact than others. “Gloria’s” lyrics take a deep-dive into one personality’s troublesome approach to raising a child. While harrowing indeed, the band’s portrayal of someone going through these struggles fails to carry much nuance. Using names as the focal point of a track has become redundant at this point for the Denver natives (see “Cleopatra,” “Angela” and “Ophelia”). Thankfully, the lazy songwriting tactic is less apparent a third time around.
There’s a general lack of radio-friendly choruses on III-a refreshing change of pace for a band who’s biggest track to date contains the words “Ho Hey.” They’re not making menial campfire tunes anymore. Heck, they’re not even making nostalgic music in 2019. In fact, they’re doing the exact opposite. They want listeners to now feel a strong sense of anguish-a sensation rarely stretched out across an entire Lumineers project. Finally, Schultz and company embrace their themes with finished anecdotes. Their usual surface-level exploration of love finally branches out in relation to addiction (“It Wasn’t Easy to be Happy For You” and “Left for Denver”)-making for an album riddled with narratives full of true tragedy. Ironically, what’s more Lumineers than that?