Kings of the golden middle ground
Lucy Harbron
11:54 11th January 2022

More about:

Despite breaking out big-time in 2011 when 'Hey Ho' was absolutely everywhere, 2021 might have been the biggest year in The Lumineers' history. Blowing up on TikTok—as their track 'Ophelia' reached musical it-girl status—reintroduced the former indie-folk sweethearts to a new generation, and just in time for their entrance into a new era.

While the world was hooked on the 2016 track, The Lumineers released III, a three-part album that continued their legacy of beautiful storytelling, vignette tracks. They also parted ways with old members of the band, stripping back to the original founders of the band, Wesley and Jeremiah. Gaining so much traction for their past work while losing members, it would’ve been easy to slip back in the push and pull of past and future. But Brightside toes the line perfectly, reintroducing the band to their bigger audience with new passion.

Brightside screams of great lessons learned. On first listen, it smacks of the best tracks from their debut record, infused with the vulnerable vocals of 'Slow It Down' and the musical energy of 'Stubborn Love'. A long way from the twee folk of 'Hey Ho', Wesley Schultz has definitely learnt how to record his vocals, keeping all the magic in. No longer cute and country, the frontman honours all his idols, merging Dylan-esque folk with Springsteen rock. There’s a grittiness to it that’s always been captivating, and on Brightside it takes centre position in every song, harnessed into the entire bittersweet feeling. 

And for the first time on Brightside, the glorious roughness of the vocals is reflected in the instrumentals. Firmly putting the acoustics down, the sound is bluesy with plenty of slide guitar and heavy drums. Signalling an instant change, title track 'Brightside' opens the album up with a truly anthemic sound that rarely gives out. More than any of their other releases, Brightside could fill big venues, as its sound moves from simple indie folk into The Lumineers' own brand of something special.

While the album is still very storytelling, Brightside is different to their previous releases. While iii and Cleopatra seemed to move through a cast of characters like a TV series, Brightside is more of a film. Cohesive in its ups and downs, it feels more personal in its specificity as the lyrics become void of location but really double down on emotions. So much of it sounds like the kind of songs that would soundtrack big cinema moments. 'Where Are We' would come in after a big argument, 'Never Really Mine' would be in the background of the silver lining post breakdown and 'Reprise' is the rolling credits. Unlike any of their older stuff, Brightside is their first one-sound album. That’s not to say its boring at all, but instead is simply uniform, released as the same inspirations stick around from start to finish. For fans of Tom Petty, Cat Stevens, Springsteen—even Sam Fender and War On Drugs—it’s time to give The Lumineers an ear for their unique merge of classic rock, folk and sad boy ballads.

All that being said, Brightside won't birth TikTok's new favourite song. None of these tracks have the captivating lyricism or power of 'Ophelia', or 'Angela' or 'Sleep On The Floor'. The album lacks one gut-wrenching sad song, as it repeatedly threatens to dip into melancholy but never quite gets there. Maybe it’s simply the theme of the album, keeping everything on the Brightside and all, but it could use some more texture.

But as spring rolls round eventually and the days slowly get brighter, I can see myself reaching for this record: The Lumineers seem to have a way of always being calming yet never borrowing, with vocals unique enough to keep intrigue and instrumentals just lively enough to regularly respark your attention.  They’re the kings of the golden middle ground. And even when straying into more anthemic areas with big sounds and choruses to chant, they’re still maintaining the thing that got us all hooked in the 2010s.

Brightside arrives 14 January via Decca.

Issue Two of the Gigwise Print magazine is on sale now! Buy it here.

More about:

Photo: Press