How do you market music these days? It’s a question that the music industry still hasn’t quite sorted out in the digital age, but The Lumineers have had an idea (one which, incidentally, John Mayer tried out back in 2017 with The Search For Everything): split your new album up into three EPs and release it over a year. Three times the buzz, three times the opportunity to get fans’ attention, three times as likely to land a hit single, or so the theory goes.
Which brings us to Gloria Sparks, the first part of The Lumineers’ new album, III. According to the accompanying press, the album ‘is a cinematic narrative told in three chapters, with the songs from each chapter focusing on one primary character from the three generations of the fictional Sparks Family’.
Very commendable, but history teaches that no concept album has ever been good because of its story. Tommy, the daddy of them all, is a great album, but not one person has ever said ‘do you know, the dramatic arc of the deaf, dumb and blind boy turned pinball wizard turned cult leader just brought the music alive!’ Sgt Peppergot bored with its concept after the first two songs. The one significant exception is The Wall, but even that was less about narrative and more about Roger Waters’ unending fascination with his own misery.
That’s the note struck by Gloria Sparks’ accompanying videos, which do the heavy lifting as far as the ‘story’ is concerned. The eponymous character has it all: the man, the baby, the house in the country. But – shock! horror! – she also has a drink problem and a bit of a thing for random chaps in bars. The idyll is fractured, she drinks herself into a seizure, the man has a car crash, and the baby sits around representing innocence. This is symbolism with caps lock on. Life isn’t all it seems, children. Spare us.
Fortunately, the music is up to The Lumineers’ usual high standard. Their reclaimed, bare-boards folk is beautiful and deeper than it seems at first listen, full of quiet pain and excellently-landed, minimalist piano stabs. It’s simple in the best way, and as ever, these first three tracks give you plenty to chew on as you listen, even with their total lack of adornment. Guitars, pianos, drums and voices do the job just fine if you know how to handle them – and these guys certainly do.
The Lumineers have the depth to last a long while and become canonical with time. Their songs will live on – but their videos will not. This was an admirable attempt to branch out, but one cursed by the three-minute time limit and the musician’s tendency towards custardy melodrama.