Taken from the Lumineers official Website
The Lumineers newest album manifests as a deafening beautiful visually-moving masterpiece.
Produced by Simone Felice, and titled III, the name is not only significant because it is their third album, but also because the album itself is divided into three parts. Each contains a total of three to four songs, the album itself carries twelve in total, which follows three generations of the Sparks family as they traverse through their hectic lives. With the release of each song comes a tied-together video each directed by Kevin Philips which weave together a story of love, life, and the harrowing effects of addiction.
The American Folk-Rock band, spearheaded by singer-songwriters Jeremiah Fraites and Wesley Schultz, were joined by violinist Lauren Jacobson and pianist Stelth Ulvang on the album. The two-time Grammy-nominated band achieved massive success on their first two albums The Lumineers and Cleopatra, with singles like Ho Hey, Stubborn Love, Sleep on the Floor, Ophelia, and Cleopatra.
Chapter I of the album begins with Donna, a soft introduction to the Sparks family and the entire story that is about to unfold. It introduces us to Gloria the first main character of the series. We learn that Gloria’s mother Donna and her husband built the house that works as the center of all the Spark’s family torment. We watch as Gloria begins to deteriorate.
“It’s not the words you say, but how you say it/I saved a picture where your hair was braided/They found your wallet in the cemetery/You told your daughter she was ordinary”
The chapter continues with Life in The City and we watch as Gloria begins her journey with addiction as she cheats on her husband at a bar late at night. We are once again enveloped in the soft melodic tempo which has become a staple of the Lumineers sound. The song also manages to tie back together with their second album with lyrics from Sleep on the Floor, but the meaning is entirely changed.
“And if the sun don’t shine on me today/And if the subways flood and bridges break/Will you just lay down and dig your grave?/Or will you rail against your dying day?”
The final song of Chapter I is Gloria. The rhythm and tempo are much more upbeat and we watch Gloria begin to self-destruct as her family tries to save her from herself. Shultz had this to say on Gloria, “Gloria is an addict. Her character was inspired by a member of my family, 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.”
“Gloria, you crawled up on your cross/Gloria, you made us sit and watch/Gloria, no one said enough is enough/…/Gloria, will you just decide?/Gloria, there’s easier ways to die/Gloria, have you had enough?”
Chapter II begins and we jump from Gloria to her grandson Junior Sparks. It Wasn’t Easy to Be Happy For You follows Junior as he goes through his first heartbreak. It’s a hard story where nothing good can be said as Juniors’ first love leaves him. The tale is one reminiscent of a real-life breakup where it can be hard to get over that other person who meant so much to you at one point and even harder to say something good about that other person.
“Yeah, it wasn’t easy to be happy for you/Yeah, I took the poison, praying you’d feel it too/You held your punches back, and I left the room/Yeah, it wasn’t easy to be happy for you”
The next song, Leader of the Landslide, begins with soft pluckings of guitar strings and then even softer vocals. It’s reminiscent of Junior’s weary state of mind as he watches his father drink vodka out of a coffee mug early in the morning. It isn’t until the music picks up speed that we see Junior realize that his father is not someone who he can or even should look up to. In the lyrics, he’s trying desperately to make his father realize that ‘she’ isn’t coming back, we are left to assume that ‘she’ is actually Junior’s mother. It’s a desperate cry of a young boy as he reaches for his independence in the wake of his father’s downfall.
“You drove me wild, drove me insane/Drank the whole bottle and forgot my name/All I ever wanted was a mother for the first time/Finally I can see you as the leader of the landslide.”
The final song of Chapter II Left for Denver, is a soft touching melody as Junior attempts to reach some sort of closure with his mother who left the family when Junior was younger and started a new one in Denver. The lyrics are borderline heartbreaking and the video helps encompass that terrible realization that there’s nothing that can be done for someone who doesn’t want help and who won’t give you answers. Junior reacts negatively to being abandoned and starts acting out. In the video he sets fire to his grandmother’s piano, tying back in with the first video of the series. When asked in an interview on Canadian radio show 102.1 the Edge, Fraites had this to say, “We see Junior sparks left with this crossroads of, can he sort of defeat the demons that he’s been given by his parents his grandmother Gloria. Can he, you know, choose the right path.”
Chapter III begins with My Cell and shows Jimmy Sparks the single father of Junior and the son of Gloria. The lyrics hauntingly clear and heartbreakingly sad depict a lonely existence as Jimmy sits alone in his room.
“Falling in love is wonderful/Falling in love is so alone/My cell/My pretty little cell/…/All alone, all alone, all alone, all alone/All alone, all alone, all alone, all alone”
The next song, Jimmy Sparks, follows Jimmy as he attempts to maintain his son after his wife Bonnie leaves them. The song begins with a slow haunting melody that quickly picks up tempo as we are introduced to Jimmy’s addiction to gambling, he takes his son to bars in order to try and make more money. The song is quickly followed by April, a soft break in the midst of all the turmoil. In the video, we watch Junior drive past his father in the dead of night without stopping. A metaphor for leaving his father, and in turn his family, behind him in order to move on with his life.
Finally, the last song Salt and the Sea can be interpreted as many things, mine is that Jimmy Sparks is talking to his son. When you watch the video, you become aware that Junior has just stolen money. The lyrics seem to be saying that you cannot blame others for your decisions. In my interpretation, Jimmy is telling Junior not to blame him for what he (Junior) has done, but that he has made choices and now must live with them. In an event reminiscent of Gloria, Junior in the video runs away from the police showing how the story has gone full circle.
“From the destruction, out of the flame/You need a villain, give me a name/…/I’ll be your friend in the daylight again/There we will be, like an old enemy/Like the salt and the sea/Like the salt and the sea”
The story comes to a close and the shattered family isn’t any better off but that’s the reality. Inherited trauma is
something that can be difficult to overcome and it won’t just happen overnight. According to the American Addiction Centers in a study conducted in 2017 more than nineteen million Americans (age twelve and older) suffer from substance abuse. This album shines a light on not only those who are struggling with addiction but all the family and loved ones who are right there with them.
When everything is said and done, when the videos have all been played and the lyrics have all been read, this album remains as a beautiful and unforgettable narrative on the effects that addiction can have on family and loved ones. I would definitely suggest going out and listening to the full album, it’s the only way to really grasp the allure the Lumineers manage to produce through every chord.