by MADELEINE LEIGH
The Lumineers – an indie band best known for hit singles “Stubborn Love,” and “Ophelia” – released their third album, III, on September 13, 2019. III is so named not just because of its position in The Lumineers’ chronology, but also because it’s a story told in three parts. A story focused on the perils of addiction.
Lead vocalist Wesley Shultz and drummer Jeremiah Fraites have drawn on their own experiences to write a powerful narrative detailing the fictional Sparks’ family’s three-generation long struggle with addiction. In an interview with NPR, the pair spoke about Shultz’s friend and Jeremiah Fraites’ brother, Josh Fraites. Josh Fraites struggled with drug addiction up until his death, affecting everyone in his life, his brother and friend included.
Studio musicians for the album additionally include Byron Isaacs, Lauren Jacobson, Simone Felice, David Baron and Anneke Schaul-Yoder. III was released with Dualtone Records and Decca Records and produced by Simone Felice.
What makes III an experience to listen to is the raw emotion Shultz pours into every lyric. His voice breaks when he sings, “and maybe when she’s dead and gone, I’ll get some sleep,” in “Leader of the Landslide,” and you can feel Gloria’s children’s pain in your own chest. Pain from what their mother’s addiction put them through, and from rejecting her over it.
All of the lyrics in III are captivating. Shultz sings, “Don’t leave me alone, cause I’ll be scared, I’ll be naked, I’ll be cold,” in “Life in the City,” and paints a vivid picture of solitude that resonates with the parts of me that fear being alone. When Shulz sings, “on the back staircase, you fell to your knees with tears in your eyes,” in “Salt and the Sea,” you can see them fall in your mind.
Of course, it wouldn’t be The Lumineers without the instrumentals. Piano, guitar and drums are at times delicate or soulful or joyous or even manic.
An accented chord on the piano in “Donna,” strikes a chord in you. The guitar and drums pick up in the bridge of “Leader of the Landslide,” and you feel the urge to move to the beat of Gloria Sparks’ children’s anger.
III’s instrumentals feel like a movie soundtrack: dramatic, striking and a crucial piece of the art created. They heighten the ever intensifying upswell of emotion the lyrics and vocals weave.
III truly is a narrative album. Its job is not just to evoke emotion, but to tell us a story.
Listening to III instantly transported me back to 2012, when I first heard “Stubborn Love,” a hit single from The Lumineers’ titular first album. Much of their new album is reminiscent of the band I first fell in love with in middle school, but III is by no means a rehash of their previous albums. Rather, it reminds listeners why they fell in love with The Lumineers in the first place while telling us an entirely new story.
I was overwhelmed by how well Shultz and Jeremiah Fraites have pulled the best parts of their sound into the present. The Lumineers beautifully bridged the dichotomy between major, buoyant chords on strings and haunting lyrics about life, love and humanity.
Not the easy, pretty parts of humanity, but the ones we all struggle with: how to love someone who’s toxic; what it feels like to be alone; the anger that comes from pain we cause one another, intentional or not.
III is an undiluted look at the humanity of addiction, one of our country’s most pervasive problems. A look at how it affects not just people who have it, but their loved ones. How it lasts for generations.
The result is evocative and lingers in your mind long after the last notes of “Salt and the Sea” fade.