Stories about the trickiest parts of the human experience — like drug and alcohol abuse — are the most compelling. The Lumineers are nothing shy of masters of this kind of musical storytelling.
In their third album, “III,” released Sept. 13, the band takes their storytelling a step further. In addition to the album, the band released videos to accompany each song which combine to create a short film. The album is split into three anachronistic chapters (a fourth can be found on extended versions, which includes bonus tracks). Each chapter represents the effect of alcoholism on one of three generations — mother and alcoholic, Gloria Sparks; her son, Jimmy, who later becomes a drug addict; and Jimmy’s son, Junior.
The cinematography of the short film is nothing short of movie-quality. It adds to the experience of the album and gives Gloria, Jimmy, and Junior real faces. It gives the characters life and makes them human, instead of just figments of the band’s collective imagination.
Both Schultz and Friates experience secondhand the trauma of Fraites’s brother’ drug addiction. Schultz’s unnamed family member also struggled with addiction, and became homeless as a result.
The album opens in the middle of a story, after Gloria Sparks, a struggling alcoholic, gives birth to her son. The accompanying music video shows how her alcoholism impacts her parenting as she downs bottles of vodka and stumbles around with her child, Jimmy Sparks, at her hip, or leaves him on the floor with empty glass bottles and fumbles into bed to take a nap.
“Your mother never was one,” Schultz sings of Gloria’s mother Donna in the song of the same title, suggesting Gloria’s parents might have contributed to her addiction. “You couldn’t sober up to hold a baby,” he adds.
The second chapter is about Jimmy Sparks, and begins with “Leader of the Landslide,” cutting to Junior’s teenage perspective on living with his father’s addiction to drugs, alcohol, and gambling. The video opens with Jimmy leaving his son to bury their dead dog in the backyard alone, while he and a cackling band of friends go home to smoke pot, snort cocaine, and drink booze.
Contrasting with the previous songs on the album, in which external voices comment on Gloria and Jimmy’s addictions, the most thought-provoking and troublesome song is “My Cell,” in which Jimmy digs into his addiction on his own.
It’s a lonely place, with “painted windows,” The Lumineers sing, suggesting Jimmy can’t see beyond his alcoholism, and nobody can see into it. The song leaves listeners with a lingering, discomforting impression that at least once, the addict could choose to love the bottle.
“Falling in love is wonderful/Falling in love is so alone,” he says. “My cell. My pretty little cell.”
The album ends with a final breath of hope. The band borrows the acoustics and some fitting lyrics from “Sailor Song,” a track off the deluxe edition of their second album, “Cleopatra,” released in 2016. They reprise the lyrics in “Soundtrack Song,” the last bonus track on “III.”
“Loneliness, oh won’t you let me be/Let me be and I will set you free./Don’t you think if it was up to me/I would choose to be happy,” they sing.
The video accompanying this song depicts grandson Junior fleeing from his father who is drunk and bleeding from a head wound in the family’s old blue truck.
“Victory is in the fight/In men with hearts that bleed tonight/And only rest and rest is what is right,” the lyrics read.
The tender emotions of the album are reflected in the band’s signature raw, stripped sound of an acoustic guitar and clattering piano. Though the lyrics dive deep into the pain of alcoholism and addiction, the acoustics are still lighthearted and pretty. Like a fall morning, though the night is over, a chill clings to air — like Gloria clinging to the bottle, or Junior clinging to hope.
The band continues to develop its style in this album, but the core features haven’t changed. The Lumineers are being who they are, and doing that well. They aren’t becoming something new, which can’t be said for the third album of many other bands.
The best part of the album, though, is not the artistry of the music or cinematography of the videos or even the band’s commitment to its own sound. Instead, it’s the band’s willingness to poke at old wounds and make uniquely troubling experiences relatable for all.
Not every family struggles with alcoholism, but we all struggle with something. Once again, The Lumineers haven’t hesitated to unwrap some of these dark parts of human nature, taking a shared experience of pain and suffering and discovering through it a shared hope.