The Lumineers tell their own story in “III” (Dualtone Music Group), a 10-track concept album composed of three chapters that follows the fictitious Sparks family.
The story follows the destructive path of addiction as it enters the life of matriarch Gloria in Chapter I. It’s a struggle that will be recognizable to anyone who’s had a loved one deal with addiction or faced it themselves.
It’s also a narrative that writers Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites know well. Schultz has a homeless relative who has battled mental illness and addiction. And Fraites’ brother died of a heroin overdose.
The Lumineers use searing imagery, painting a picture with each song. This picture — the life of Gloria, her son Jimmy and her grandson Junior — is further illuminated by the heartbreaking short film that accompanies the record.
The breadth of the project is remarkable. Stunning visual vignettes bring the lyrics to life, like when Schultz sings, “A little boy was born in February / You couldn’t sober up to hold a baby,” and you see Gloria fall, clutching her wine glass, with the baby playing on the floor nearby.
The songs also stand on their own.
Removed from the context of the rest of the album, “Life in the City” is exactly that — a narrative of navigating a difficult and lonely city life. Within the larger story, it’s also part of Gloria’s battle, as the city entices her with drugs, alcohol and sex.
For their third album, The Lumineers employ their usual sound, with piano and the gruff vocals of Schultz. The songs aren’t over-produced, giving a raw, emotive feel to each song.
The storyline has moments of hopefulness, yet it makes no promises. There seems a chance that Junior might escape the cycle of addiction from the generations before him in “Left for Denver.” But the ending of the short film is ambiguous, questioning whether he does get away.
It’s an appropriate ending, mirroring the reality of addiction. There’s always a chance the cycle will end, but to put a pretty little bow around the narrative would be an injustice.
The Lumineers bring moments of hope on “III,” but they also recognize the lingering darkness of addiction.