Yesterday, Imagine Dragons released their sophomore studio album Smoke + Mirrors. For those of you that live under a rock and may not know Imagine Dragons, the Las Vegas based rock group released their debut album Night Visions in 2012 and took the charts by storm with hit tracks “Radioactive”, “Demons” and “It’s Time”. They’re known for their over-the-top and dramatic rock anthems that create a world of fantasy or story telling for the listener, but can also be played at most bars and youth clothing stores.
With their large amounts of success and popularity, Imagine Dragons has lacked a cohesiveness in their music that pulls from their artistic merit. Each song comes off as a sales pitch, each attempting to out do each other on the radio charts. Subject matter, instrumentation, production and style all comes from the farthest corners of the mind when tracks are laid out next to each other and compared. This tendency makes it difficult for a band like Imagine Dragons to produce a full album and be well-received.
The album opens with “Shots,” a redemptive song that hints at the necessity of reflection. It begins with lyrics pouring in “I”m sorry for everything, oh everything I’ve done. Am I out of touch?” A praising overdubbed chorus chants these apologies throughout the track emphasizing the endeavor or self-reflection, but twinkly soft-pop synths retract the seriousness of the subject and bring it to a mellow dance, “put your hands in the air” equilibrium.
Then, boom, track two “Gold” brings you abruptly back to the industrial sounds and mixes to the liking of “Radioactive.” With wrench twists and off beats that sound like bike chains being rubbed together, Reynolds sings a syncopated and purposefully misleading melody, pulling the audience into a bluesy cello backing rhythm. “When everything you touch turns to gold…” is this what comes from working in the factory of radioactivity? This could very well be a sequel to “Radioactive”, which is fine, but the production is much more heavily focused on this song then its proceeding song on the album. It has layers and intensity that erase all memory of the songs you’ve already heard.
The two moods set in the first two tracks come together on the album title track “Smoke and Mirrors.” A smooth melody sings over in a praying sort of way, with intense belting set in the background. Reynolds really lets himself loose with an intensely produced pre chorus of rhythm, guitar and yelling that show the passionate mood he has for the song. Once you have heard the first few songs from the album, you have experienced all of the feelings that Smoke + Mirrors is able to make you feel. Besides that, it’s very prevalent that each song was influenced by other bands. Each one reminds me of another group, “I Bet My Life” is a louder Milky Chance, “I’m So Sorry” is a Black Keys and Alt-J mash up, “Polaroid” sounds exactly like “Pursuit of Happiness” by Kid Cudi, and “It Comes Back To You” sounds like an band you would see at Lollapalooza Music Festival before 2pm on a Saturday. This takes away from the originality of sound for Imagine Dragons, but at the end of the day Smoke + Mirrors does make for good car jams. This album may not be their masterpiece, but with a little more innovation, Imagine Dragons could some day make a great album.
Key Tracks: “Shots”, “I Bet My Life”, “Dream”
RIYL: Alt-J, Bastille, One Republic