If like me you’re looking forward to The Lumineers’ upcoming European tour, then you’ll no doubt already be well into the process of learning all the songs on their new album, ‘Brightside’, which was released on January 14.
The fourth studio album from the Denver folk rock group headed up by Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites, retains the same sound that we’ve come to know and love over the years, and has so far spawned three singles.
Both Wesley and Jeremiah have released solo albums during the pandemic; Schultz with ‘Vignettes‘, in October 2020, and Fraites this time last year with ‘Piano Piano‘. But while both are gorgeous records, they served only as placeholders for an album by The Lumineers.
Comprising 9 tracks, ‘Brightside’ sounds on the surface like it should be a happy album – but in true Lumineers fashion, it’s got that sombre melancholy that fans have come to know so well. Having said that, it’s possibly the most upbeat and joyous album they’ve released so far. Opening with the title track, which took only a day to record, it’s a love story, from start to finish. We see the highs and we see the lows, Schultz’s vocals as rich and pure as ever as he sings of a couple who are in the honeymoon period of their love, nothing can hold them down, they are young and wild and free. Fraites’ electric guitar providing a heart-beat like thrumming throughout the track.
Following on with ‘A.M. Radio’, they this time lead with acoustic guitar, before swelling at the midway point with percussion and piano. Fraites and Schultz performed most of the instrumentals, along with long-time collaborator Simone Felice, who, in addition to co-producing with David Baron, also provided backing vocals and co-arranged the tracks with Schultz and Fraites.
Track 3, ‘Where We Are’, is possibly the most upbeat and positive song ever from The Lumineers, and could well be an anthem for the Covid-19 Pandemic, with lyrics like,
“I don’t know where we are, but it will be okay”
The young couple from ‘Brightside’ are continuing on their journey, still deeply in love, but having encountered a few speed bumps along the way. Even so, despite the encouraging lyrics, the instrumentals still contain the darkness characteristic of The Lumineers; it’s almost a foreshadowing of what is to come.
‘Birthday’ sees the couple reflecting on what they’ve been through so far – loneliness, a burned down house (perhaps virtual, and relating to the loneliness), but in the end – it’s alright. It’s your birthday, and we know every word, and we’re singing along. Jangling piano, and cheery guitar give the opposite feel to the previous song. While they’re bright, the lyrics are less so.
‘Big Shot’ marks the halfway point of the album, and it deserves to have the volume turned right up to 11. Schultz’s vocals take on a languidness not seen so far in the album, a world-weariness that perhaps signifies what’s yet to come in the remaining 4 songs.
The title of the next track shows us in no uncertain terms where we’re headed. The couple’s Great American Love Story has hit the rocks. Cars and traffic feature strongly in the songs on this album and ‘Never Really Mine’ is no exception. With cars come the idea of escape, getting away, running away. The male protagonist has accepted that time is coming to an end on the relationship. ‘Rollercoaster’, track 7, returns to the soft, gentle acoustic instrumentals, guitar gently strumming, accompanying Schultz’s plaintive vocals. There’s what seems to be a typewriter tapping in the background towards the end, which I presumed would continue into ‘Remington’, given that’s an old typewriter brand; but it seems the Remington in question is the razorblade company: Mr Remington. Maybe even Victor Kiam, who famously liked their products so much he bought the company. But no. Again, like ‘Birthday’, there’s a fire; it segues sweetly into ‘Reprise’, a return to ‘Brightside’, and with the singer “heading for the lights”, the sense of death approaching. We hope our hero hasn’t helped himself over to the Brightside, but we can’t be entirely sure; Hammond organs swell towards the end of the track and we know that he’s made it.
All in all, ‘Brightside’ is what we’ve come to expect from The Lumineers. A high quality album, comprising exquisitely written and performed songs, with a tightly knit storyline, that nonetheless allows each song to be listened to in isolation. As I listened, I imagined what they’re going to sound like performed live. I can’t wait.
‘Brightside’ is out now through Decca/Dualtone. See here for dates of their upcoming European tour, and get a ticket if you can.