The Lumineers might have commercial accolades behind them, but Brightside offers further proof of their artistic devolution.
After a slower rollout than normal, The Lumineers have dropped their fourth full-length album, Brightside, their second as a duo since Neyla Pekarek left the band, and featuring multiple members of their touring band as fill-ins. The record reflects a slightly different approach for Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites, opting for a larger sound than on 2019’s III, and the result is mostly invariable, with a single standout cut rising above while the rest feels fixed in the same rut that the band has been occupying since their first record.
The Lumineers have long been the object of scorn, largely from indie-minded music critics and traditional rock fans, and the criticisms levied aren’t exactly inaccurate, as the band is largely responsible (along with Mumford and Sons) for a mostly intolerable era of twee indie folk pop that has infested radio play and festival circuits alike. There’s a sincerity — though mostly devoid of anything endearing — that occupies the corners of their first records, absent only on tracks that stripped down the “HO”s and the “HEY”s to a looser, acoustic sound. And by and large, Brightside suffers from the same pitfalls, with distinctly goofy lyrics sung with befuddling self-importance, as if they’re the peak of profundity. There’s also a new level of production here that pushes the band more toward the “pop” side of their folk-pop coin, but all without fully committing to that shift. For each track, there’s a verse and roughly half a chorus written, replete with a repetitive riff and an emotionless hook, all reflective of a sound that’s been covered plenty before, and better.
The primary impression, then, is that as little as listeners are likely to be into listening to this, it seems the duo was even less interested in making it, despite the constant targeted advertising conveniently insisting that this was “their favorite album so far.” Indeed, the commitment to the corporatization of their own music is simultaneously indicative of the problem with the album and the state of the genre, with many of these artists immediately signing big label contracts and abandoning the sound of their roots, which in most cases was largely cribbed already. It’s a soulless way to produce music, and it largely shows here. The only moment that comes close to transcending this cynical approach to music-making is the album’s title track, which nearly convinces of better material to follow. Alas. The lyrics are likewise disposable, mostly consisting of strung-together phrases that mean nothing and are for some reason present in several songs here: “tonight baby,” “light in your eyes,” “smoke from a cigarette.” If this kind of nonsense is intended to paint some picture for listeners, it ends up as strictly motel art.
There’s no denying The Lumineers incredible success. They’ve made silly amounts of money, they’ve produced tracks that were enduring hits on the charts, and they’ve toured alongside legacy acts like Tom Petty and U2, extending their gravitational pull to an older generation of fans. It’s tough to begrudge them this level of success, something many acts would kill for, but it remains fair to ask: At what cost? The Lumineers answer that question succinctly on their latest, and the answer seems to be artistic integrity. There are many albums that will come out in 2022 that you should listen to, and with The Lumineers continuing their devolution with Brightside, it’s fair and easy to proclaim that this is decidedly not one of them.
Published as part of Album Roundup — January 2022 | Part 1.