All it takes is one song. For The Lumineers, that song was Hey Ho.
I remember when the first series of Nashville aired in the UK. It was a bit of a guilty pleasure without the guilt because I loved it (if you’re a country music fan, I’m sure you’ll love it too). In one episode, the Conrad sisters (player by Lennon and Maisy Stella who deserve kudos for their performance) sang an absolutely adorable cover of ‘Hey Ho’. Up until that point, I’d never heard of The Lumineers, but from there-in I was hooked. Seemingly, so were the rest of the UK. ‘Hey Ho’ was popping up everywhere, from TV ads to open mic nights. It was so catchy and feel-good and over-played to the point it became unbearable. For a time, it seemed The Lumineers were set to become a ‘one hit wonder’ and I’m sad to say I lost interest.
Then a few years passed…
I was driving to the airport with my partner at 4.00am. We’d had a pretty rough month and were long over-due a weekend away. I was shuffling through one of Spotify’s ‘Discovery’ playlists when a track called ‘Sleep On The Floor’ (from The Lumineers’ second studio album, Cleopatra, came on: ‘Pack yourself a toothbrush dear. Pack yourself a favourite blouse. Take a withdrawal slip, take all of your savings out. ‘Cause if we don’t leave this town, we might never make it out. I was not born to drown. Baby come on.’
It was quite a surreal moment to experience that song for the first time, as it resonated so easily with what we were both going through at the time. Before I knew it, I was falling in love with The Lumineers all over again.
Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites are incredibly clever and thoughtful musicians. With the release of their third studio album, conveniently entitled III, The Lumineers explore the complexities of addiction and the inevitable impact and fallout that spans three generations of the fictional Sparks family, set out over three chapters. Whilst for most musicians, the overuse of threes here could become problematic and brand them borderline pretentious, Shultz and Fraites somehow manage to make this album a success – an ambitious project, to say the least. With delightful ‘nods’ (both musically and lyrically) to the songs ‘Sleep On The Floor’ and ‘Cleopatra’ from their second album, III is set firmly within The Lumineers’ mini-universe, a natural continuation of the fictional narrative set out in the earlier album.
It feels to me a brave choice to have an entire album centred on addiction, given that both Shultz and Fraites have first-hand experience of this.
What could have been an overly emotional and wrought narrative is actually well-considered and balanced throughout, and should be considered a fitting tribute to those whose lives have served as inspiration. What’s more, the album is accompanied by a short film, with a music video for each of the ten main tracks. So as to fully appreciate the narrative, I would definitely recommend ‘watching’ before listening to the standalone album.
Opening track ‘Donna’ is strange, ethereal and completely stripped back, almost like a lullaby. For such a sedate song, it is quite catching and perhaps my favourite on the album. It also fits in nicely with The Lumineers’ penchant for naming songs after strong female characters (Elouise, Darlene, Ophelia, Cleopatra, Angela, Donna and Gloria). Gloria is another standout track, decidedly more upbeat and quite playful despite the description of Gloria’s troubles in the lyrics: ‘Gloria, I smell it on your breath. Gloria, booze and peppermint. Gloria, no one said enough is enough’. It Wasn’t Easy To Be Happy For You is a gorgeous, silky-smooth track that keeps the album moving through the chapters.
There is a lot of variety on the latest offering from The Lumineers – on a deeper level, this could be reflective of the varying extremes of addiction, and if that’s the case, then this album is, quite simply put, an absolute triumph. If there is one thing we can all take away from this album, it’s that The Lumineers are a band that shouldn’t be underestimated. At the heart of every song is a raw, genuine soul that is impossible not to be moved by.
Words by Kathryn Halliday.