The lift of a foot pressing on a piano pedal rhythmically releases a few times over before Wesley Schultz sings the first line of “Donna” clearly and boisterously. This song — the first on The Lumineers' newest album "III" — has been out for weeks. “III” isn’t a traditional album where there’s a swell of anticipation for a complete collection of songs, it’s a three-part saga intended to tell a story of addiction.
The album was released in three different parts over a four month period —something Shultz had been anticipating.
“There's a traditional way to roll something out in music, and if you defy that, you’re kind of swimming upstream,” Schultz said in an interview with HuffPost.
The band decided to take this risk because it’s at a place where it can fall back on its previous albums. In “III,” listeners can wallow in the comfort of the familiar instrumentalization they’re used to hearing from The Lumineers, but they should prepare themselves for a new and harrowing motif.
Members of The Lumineers disclose their personal ties with addiction in “III.” Drummer Jeremiah Fraites has had family members affected by the cycle of drug addiction. In an interview with NPR, he said his brother got in legal trouble because he smoked PCP. He suffered second and third-degree burns on his throat and passed away months later.
Experiences like these were the motivation to tell a story. “III” was named because of the unorthodox way the album was released. Each one of the three sections tells a new part of the story. “Donna,” “Life in the City” and “Gloria” are included in the first chapter. Next comes “It Wasn’t Easy To Be Happy For You,” “Leader of the Landslide” and “Left for Denver.” The final chapter was released Sept. 13 and includes “My Cell,” “Jimmy Sparks,” ''April” and ''Salt and Sea.”
Schultz singing about heartbreak is no new feat, but “It Wasn’t Easy To Be Happy For You” provides a new and catchy melody for fans to get hooked on. “Yeah, it wasn’t easy to be happy for you,” is sung repeatedly over the simple strumming of a guitar. Listeners can internalize the sadness along with the twinge of anger Schultz has for the former lover he sings about.
“Life in the City” paints a cityscape in the listener’s mind. At first, the song seems happy, featuring lively and percussive guitar and drums. Schultz’s wooing transcends gently over the instrumentation. As the song plays on, the upbeat nature never diminishes. The lyrics are a juxtaposition to the instrumental melody, depicting a sad narrative— “Living life in the city / it’ll never be pretty.” As the song comes to a close, Schultz’s vocalization becomes soft and delicate. The heavy rhythmic guitar subsides and is replaced with a romantic piano, providing a gentle cap for an emotional piece.
“Gloria” tells the story of a woman struggling to cope with substance abuse. Heart-wrenching lyrics, “Gloria, I smell it on your breath / Gloria, booze and peppermint / Gloria, no one said enough is enough / Gloria, they found you on the floor,” narrate her struggle. One may not come to terms with the intense sadness because, in true Lumineers fashion, the heartbreak is disguised in its musicality. Fans may revel in the song’s visual interpretation featured in its music video, directed by Kevin Phillips. Schultz expressed that music videos are “a way we can express ourselves if we choose to.”
Released on Sept. 12, “Jimmy Sparks” narrates Gloria Spark’s grown son, who’s facing the same alcohol addiction as his mother. In contrast to “Gloria,” any listener can detect the bleakness in Jimmy Spark’s life. The piano plays daintily, but the chords the band chose may leave the listener with an unsettling feeling. Schultz sings with a raspy inflection, “Would you spare my blood / Damn my blood.”
“III,” a work unlike anything else The Lumineers has produced, sheds light on addiction and its effect at an individual level, but also its generational impact. The band depicts this through its story of the Spark family — addiction in one family member can follow its predecessors. The Lumineers, through its music and storytelling, manifested a dreary narrative that displays the struggles and complexities of addiction.
Contact Audrey Nakagawa at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.