Denver band The Lumineers are most likely to be condemned to the history books as a one hit wonder, at least as far as the general public en masse are concerned, courtesy of their 2012 smash ‘Ho Hey‘, a decent song of course, but a pity in many respects, as they have proved to be somewhat more adaptable than we may have initially thought. You could argue that the band’s last album, Cleopatra, was a number one smash on both sides of the Atlantic, admittedly, and you’d be correct in doing so, but let’s face it, if anyone was given The Lumineers as their ‘3 in 10’ on Ken Bruce’s Popmaster quiz (you might need to Google that if you’re not in the UK!), I think it’s safe to say that only one song, and even that’s at a push, is going to get a mention.
Happily, the group’s latest long player is further evidence that they are a force to be reckoned with. An album in three parts, centred around the fictional Sparks family. Often there are parallels with real life relatives or friends of the band themselves. ‘Donna‘, for instance, is a quite heartbreaking opener, focusing on someone helplessly dependent on her drug of choice – alcohol: “If you don’t have it then you’ll never give it / and I don’t blame you for the way you’re living / the little boy was born in February / you couldn’t sober up to hold a baby“, and rather crushingly, “you told your daughter she was ordinary.” As frontman Wesley Schultz explains: “Gloria is an addict 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.”
The rest of the album focuses on two further generations of the aforementioned family – Gloria’s grandson Junior Sparks and her son Jimmy. It’s fair to say they are a pretty dysfunctional household, with much bitterness, as is made clear on the stunningly intense ‘Leaders Of The Landslide‘, with lyrics such as “You blamed it all on your kids / We were young, we were innocent / You told me a lie, fuck you for that / Fuck all your pride and fuck all your prayers.” Oof, powerful stuff, while musically, The Lumineers seem to be morphing into a kind of more commercially viable version of The Felice Brothers at times. This is a deep, often disturbing listen that feels hugely important, especially when you get to the story of Jimmy, whose tormented life is thrown even further into turmoil when his wife dies, which sends him over the edge on a wretched path not dissimilar to his own mother’s.
If I can urge you to do anything, I would suggest to really, really listen to this album in depth, paying especially close attention to the lyrics. It’s devastating, but in the most beautiful of ways. Turn out the lights, switch off the phones, lay on your bed and just let these songs soak in. If they don’t bring tears to your eyes, then I fear you have no soul.
III is released on 13th September through Decca.