III got its title not only from being The Lumineers’ third studio album, but also because it tells the three-chapter tale of the ill-fated Sparks family: matriarch Gloria, her son Jimmy, and her grandson Junior—three generations facing the ruination of addiction. The Sparks are a fictional family, but their stories come from a real place: Vocalist Wesley Schultz and percussionist Jeremiah Fraites crafted the characters from their own experiences of trying to save their loved ones from addiction.
Schultz’s anguished vocals contrast a twinkling piano on “Donna,” the story of a mother who supplements the emptiness of her domestic life with alcohol. Foreboding drums guide her deeper into her destruction on “Life in the City.” For anyone hoping for an encore of the band’s balmy sound from their early days, you’ll find a sonic match with “Gloria,” but tread lightly—the song moves at such a blithe pace that the words “Gloria, there’s easier ways to die” come as a shock to the ears.
“Jimmy Sparks” is a piano-driven tale of a man who copes with his depression through violence, alcohol, and gambling. The effects of Junior’s father’s disarray are apparent on “It Wasn’t Easy to Be Happy for You,” a song that plays as a breakup letter from someone who couldn’t handle the weight of mental illness anymore. “Is she dead? Is she fine?/Every day, every night,” Schultz whispers on “Leader of the Landslide,” a reminder of the album’s dismal origins.