In their fourth studio effort, The Lumineers once again deliver an anthemic record full of vibrant choruses fit for Hollywood soundtracks. After their emotionally and thematically complex third album, the band has decided to take a step back and focus on catchy songs and feel-good anthems in this short LP. The duo manages to scrap together a fun and emotional half-hour long record that will certainly satisfy fans of the band.
The record is, instrumentally, no stranger to the Lumineers’ past studio albums. Still influenced by folk, country and Americana with a strong pop undercurrent, “BRIGHTSIDE” is sonically familiar to the rest of their catalogue. Although songs like the title track contain a heavier guitar tone than usual with overdriving guitars nearing distortion, the rest of the record remains par for the course with lots of acoustic guitars and clanging pianos leading the charge.
Wesley Schultz’s iconic voice carries the album from beginning to end. Heavily influenced by artists like Springsteen and Dylan, Schultz delivers every lyric confidently and almost intimately. The other half of the duo, Jeremiah Fraites, accompanies Schultz with percussions and piano to great effect. The band’s sound remains untouched, for better or worse, even after cellist and vocalist Neyla Pekarek left the band in 2018.
Thematically, the record seems to be lacking substance after such a complex and layered third album. “III,” the band’s third album, was a huge leap forward in both lyricism and storytelling. Although it can always be hard to follow up after a successful concept album, the Lumineers fall short of the bar they set for themselves, seemingly taking a step back into a more comfortable and well-known territory. It is safe to say that the band has not produced anything entirely new or previously unheard.
The lyrics in the record retreat to a more general description of emotions and feelings while descriptions of people and events become more specific. This shift in lyrical approach is jarring after an album that so carefully and with much detail explored the psychological consequences of generational substance abuse, intra-familiar violence and more. The vague emotionality of “BRIGHTSIDE” under-delivers and fails to draw listeners in.
Often criticized for sticking to composing catchy songs for movie moments, The Lumineers seem to believe that messing with the formula is not worth the risk. “BRIGHTSIDE” is their fourth studio album and at times it is sonically indistinguishable from their first effort. While this is not inherently a good or bad thing, in the case of the Lumineers it means a failure to evolve.
While the band rides the popularity of the genres it is influenced by it gives nothing back by failing to push any boundaries and abstaining from reinvention. While fans of the more pop-based sound of their music might be content with another album of the same variety, fans of the genre will most likely feel like they have been ripped off by a somewhat cheap, stripped back and boiled down attempt.
“BRIGHTSIDE” is, nonetheless, a welcome addition to the Lumineers’ lineup. While much shorter than any of their other studio records; the album manages to hold its own. The addition of heavier guitar tones in the title and opening track delivered a new type of sound that gave the rest of the record a lot of promise. Unfortunately the rest of the record sunk back into the band’s comfort zone and failed to deliver anything truly exciting. While “BRIGHTSIDE” is a step back from their last record, it is only a step back into what the band was producing beforehand. The future still looks bright for the Lumineers – as long as they dare to take a step into the unknown.