When The Lumineers set out to record the follow-up their highly successful sophomore effort, Cleopatra, the band managed to raise their expectations for what would become III. The album is presented in three chapters: each coming with their own set of themes, topics, and overall feel. The album itself progresses nicely as it unfolds over these chapters, and co-founder/multi-instrumentalist of The Lumineers, Jeremiah Frates mentioned in an interview that, “This collection of songs worked out in a beautiful way, and I feel with this album we’ve really hit our stride.” The confidence that comes through on this record can be felt, but it’s a bit of a departure from the upbeat nature of their second record. What we are left with is an “artist’s record” that stays true to who The Lumineers are as both people, as well as musicians.
III kicks off with the quick ballad, “Donna,” which is structured mostly around the piano. Lead singer Wesley Schultz sings with a story-telling/folky delivery as he croons, “You hate the name Junior / Your husband loved his computers / Your mother never was one / The eldest of seven children.” These lyrics help set the stage for the first chapter of the album revolving around the character of the same name. The pace picks up with “Life in the City,” which is also structured around the piano, yet some well-placed drums help bring home each of Schultz’s lyrics. When the band fully kicks in on the chorus, you can tell there is a “changing of the guard” towards what fans of The Lumineers have come to expect from the group. They even borrow a similar sound back into the fold from Cleopatra when Schultz sings on the bridge, “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 the dying day?” This familiarity of sound comes across as a welcome re-introduction to the band who may be subtly saying, “we’re still the same band.”
Lead single, “Gloria,” is as about as straight-forward of a Lumineers song that you can get. By that, I mean that it sounds exactly what you would expect a Lumineers single to sound like: slow, build-up verses to a sing-a-long chorus. The song itself turned out to be one of my least favorites on the record after seeing everything that they put around it on the LP.
The tempo changes almost too abruptly on the acoustic guitar-arranged track from Chapter Two, on “It Wasn’t Easy To Be Happy For You.” It reminded me too much of the easy-going style found on their debut record, and again, the song didn’t too much for me as a whole. “Leader of the Landslide” luckily brings back the high expectations I had for this album, and allows for Schultz to tell more of a story as he casually strums along. When he sings, “You drove me wild, drove me insane / Drank the whole bottle, forgot my name / All I ever wanted was a mother for the first time / Finally I could see you as the leader of the landslide,” he brings more depth to the character the band introduced in this “version” of the group. This moment in the chorus brings a mid-album crescendo of sorts, and it eventually soars to the heights of their sky-high fan expectations.
“Left For Denver” does not carry the momentum gained on the aforementioned track very far, unfortunately, with another downer of a song. The band really could have benefited from another up-tempo track here, but it never really gets off the ground. “My Cell” is another song that fits into this category of songs that don’t go anywhere, even if the lyrical content and story-telling aspects are still rich.
We get introduced to one of the last characters in “Jimmy Sparks” on the song of the same name and tells a story of how Jimmy lost his way in the world. Schultz narrates his tale confidently as he sings, “Twenty years gone and now the boy is a man / Old Jimmy’s habits got him mountains and mountains of debt / And now the sharks are coming back to collect / They strip the jewelry and the boots off Jim’s feet / They kick him out of the car and say we’ll give you a week / Eight miles from home and only eighteen degrees / It was three AM.” The depth of the lyrics does a lot for the song, but unfortunately, the band doesn’t do enough around the words to make the track have much of a shelf life. “April” and “Salt and The Sea” round out the final chapter of an album I wanted to like, but it just never connected with me. “April” is just a quick piano interlude that blends into “Salt and The Sea,” but everything feels way too similar as we go from song to song. The album closer turns out to be my favorite in the set, and provides a glimmer of hope that The Lumineers are still capable of capturing the magic they found on Cleopatra.
Overall, these songs are all stylistically similar, but well-written. The Lumineers are at their best when they let each of the band members bring in their creative flair to the table, but I’m unsure if everyone got an equal voice on this effort. I’m not willing to write off The Lumineers altogether since they have provided some of my favorite folk-rock songs during this decade. A little variety can go a long way too.