Review: The Lumineers’ visual album “III” explores the horrors of substance abuse

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Review: The Lumineers’ visual album “III” explores the horrors of substance abuse

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The folk-rock group The Lumineers have evolved over the course of their career, and are well known for songs such as “Ho Hey” and “Ophelia.” With their third album, “III,” The Lumineers enter new territory, exploring issues of substance abuse and addiction through nine songs that all connect the same narrative. The stunning visual album tells the story of the Sparks family and the consequences of alcoholism through three chapters and three generations. 

For their second album, “Cleopatra,” The Lumineers released a short film titled “The Battle of Cleopatra,” which connects the music videos to several songs on the album. While they draw on that project as inspiration for these nine interconnected songs and videos, they have never produced something quite like “III” before, and the final product is truly a sight to behold. “III” is dark, bold and introspective, especially the final chapter, and though this new album shows a different side of the band, personal touches from their previous music is never lost. Much of “III” is inspired by songwriters Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites’s personal experiences with loved ones facing addiction. This emotion bleeds through every song and lyric and makes for a truly remarkable listening experience.

Set in the 1980s, the first chapter focuses on Gloria, the mother of Jimmy and a raging alcoholic. The first track, “Donna,” begins with a haunting piano melody and the family posing for a photo. We are quickly shown that this family’s situation is not as happy as it seems; the lyrics delve into the ramifications of Gloria’s alcoholism: “A little boy was born in February, you couldn’t sober up to hold the baby.” “Life in the City” treats listeners to Gloria’s escapades as a young woman in the big city, and we learn more about her background and the events leading up to her addiction, which occurs in “III’s” first single, “Gloria.” Throughout these three songs, the neglect of baby Jimmy is never forgotten. At the end of “Gloria” we see him left alone, clutching an empty bottle of vodka, a scene that is unfortunately a foreshadowing.

The second and third chapters are set in modern times and feature a now-adult Jimmy and his son, Junior. Jimmy’s relationship with Junior’s mother has fallen apart and, like his mother Gloria, he becomes an alcoholic. The family is now caught in a vicious cycle, and in “Leader of the Landslide,” Junior is forced to watch his father descend into oblivion. In one particularly jarring instance in “Jimmy Sparks,” shots of a broken Jimmy stumbling down the road are accompanied with clips of a home film of the family when Junior was an infant. If this contrast wasn’t painful enough, Junior ends up driving past his father and following the advice that Jimmy gave him: “don’t you ever give a hitcher a ride, cause it’s us or them.” 

“III” is made intentionally by the smart lyrics and beautifully tragic music and – paired with the emotionally charged videos – it becomes something truly incredible.

The music of “III” is very raw, very emotional and tells a real, human story. The beautifully shot videos tell the same story with impressive cinematography. Every detail is meticulously thought out and the strong narrative never breaks. “III” isn’t just an album, it’s an artistic masterpiece, and it sticks with the listener until long after the final track.

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