1. Track List (113)

Imagine Dragons’ Are The Heir Apparent To Stadium Packing Sound Like Creed, On ‘Smoke + Mirrors’, But Formulas Hold It Back From True Glory

taylor
Written by taylor
/ 8 mins read

On the heels of their mega successful debut studio album Night Visions, Las Vegas natives Imagine Dragons deliver more of the same, albeit with a little bit more eclecticism with second studio album Smoke + Mirrors, which continues the trend of catch-all anthemia, a boon for Imagine Dragons fans everywhere, yet a challenge for a discerning music fan like myself who tends to be underwhelmed by the formulas present here, however layered or bombastic their individual sound designs. What this band is good at is making tracks loud and concussive and exciting in the most obvious of ways. Many folks are pleased with their style, and even moved to tears by certain concepts and sentiments expressed lyrically – words supercharged by all of the kinetic instrumentation at hand. I will offer, by way of comparison, that the Post Alt Rock band Creed was also, at one time, the most popular Rock band of its time. Ask any music fan – or even music layman, about the relevance of Creed now, and I would say they are not as cool, or as boundlessly talented in our collective perceptions, as they were in their highly advertised heyday. By the way, I should say, I saw through the commercialism back then, to the core of what that band was – basic songwriters with a spiritual, redemptive power which was as appealing then as it is now with Imagine Dragons, who likewise seem to avoid complicated notes and black keys in favor of easy and expected melodies and writing. They just happen to incorporate many more influences than Creed, ranging from Synth to Hip Hop beats to Revivalist Soul to Folk, against Creed’s strictly Hard Rock and Alternative output. Despite various influences fusing into one loud and bold sound, Imagine Dragons are consistently categorized as Pop Rock, because, under all that noise, the notation is all Pop – exhibiting a disinterest with reinventing anything or challenging its listener artistically. What Imagine Dragons do have to offer is great instrumentation and fantastic vocals from front man Dan Reynolds.

The Album Starts With Some Great Excitement, And Initially Recalls The Successes Of Duran Duran

“Shots” is an exciting Electro Pop dance number that Imagine Dragons is really good at perfecting, as they balance the New Wave elements with enough sing-along Pop formula to invite all audiences to join in. Whether this is a good analogy or not, Duran Duran can be viewed as many things in today’s day and age – from Synth Pop to Yacht Rock to Sophisti-Pop, but what they were most known for is there accessible and exciting eighties formulas, I feel. In the same way, Imagine Dragons serve this formulaic role for a whole new generation, and are certainly on par with Duran Duran in terms of household recognition. Conversely, “Gold” represents the all over the place train wreck of sound that Imagine Dragons sometimes exhibit, as they mix here faux Gospel vibrations with off time Soul claps, knee-jerk transitions in style, sickly muddy harmonies, sound/gain drops implemented for dramatic effect that simply annoy the listener (same tricks used on “Believer” later on), and oh yeah – a bunch of fucking whistling for no reason whatsoever, except that I guess it’s trendy. This is a God awful song – and more of a speaker and sub woofer tester to be honest, than an actual arrangement anyone would seriously listen to. “Smoke + Mirrors” hits some of that Duran Duran and Phil Collins sense of Synth Pop again, especially with orchestra drum breakdown parts, and is definitely mesmerizing for both the mood it invokes and the clever instrumentation. Yet it is troubling to me for its mean-nothing lyrics, which cynically says all is hopeless while also stating that you need hope? Bad lyricism 101. Then it’s back to boom clap banging Rock with “I’m So Sorry”, the type that all Pop Rock bands make, except perhaps Imagine Dragons are the most adept at this style? Sure, maybe, but if I’m not working out, or watching cheerleaders at half time, I don’t have a purpose for this on-the-nose Rock foot stomper, which is either about young angst and how embarrassing this life phase is to look back upon when older, or about some complicated stepfather and stepson relationship which goes through some trials and tribulations due to the stepson’s anger over the divorce and the loss of his real father. I think.

So What’s Up With The Millennial Whooping, I Ask?

Millennial whooping Indie Folk graces our ears with “I Bet My Life”, because that is a killer money making sound y’all. I am so waiting for the song to break into a “I belong to you, you belong to me” segue like the familiar folk sounds of The Lumineers 2012 hit “Ho Hey”, but all joking aside, there some original moments that are memorable here as well. “Polaroid” features Dan Reynolds sing-rapping his lyrics over a fuzzy and subtle boom clap structure, but man, does this song drag, even during its supposedly big parts. Though the iconic chords for The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” is present in the background, they do nothing to save this mundane slog of a song, which ultimately is just an exercise which includes the swapping of high intensity and low intensity measures. “Friction” is a weird one that I continue to not be so sure about, as it mixes pretty derivative elements of Nine Inch Nails and even a little Rage Against the Machine in the rap verse parts, albeit with a little more Soul courtesy of Dan Reynolds’ great vocal chops. As interesting as the rhythm is on “Friction”, by far the funkiest beat on the whole album is “It Comes Back To You”, which accompanies a simple yet moving melody, even while this arrangement includes – that’s right – more millennial whooping, though, I can forgive these tropes and frivolities because the drumming and rhythm guitar are so perfectly grooving and mysterious. Extremely confusing lyrics abound, yet a theme emerges of obsession, and being trapped in a vicious cycle, so I will offer that this song is about drug addiction in some way – as some of the lyrics refer to the behavior and thinking of an addict – although nothing here is specific. Furthermore, nothing here is poetic either, but rather, just juxtapositions of certain positions. I do tire of the actually weak writing of Imagine Dragons, as they try to aggrandize prose that could really use a rewrite or two and more interesting vocabulary. “Dream” is good because it’s Gospel moments are not so predictable, even getting ghostly and ethereal in ways that I respond to. Alas, I simply tire of the return to quiet moments, preceding exponentially louder musical arcs, ultimately wishing for the song to be over and done with.

All’s Well That Ends Well

“Trouble” haphazardly mixes Indie Folk, military marching, and raw Rock edge, and as it builds, you hope it will be a successful and satisfying release, until you realize that it all leads to the same phrased melody, made overloud and complicated. Yet thankfully, a dizzying time signature of a beat blows my socks off again with “Summer”, as it creatively searches for more and more sonic ecstasy, bringing together an almost Afro Pop rhythm with heavenly whimsical vocals that recall the wonderful sound of Americana. This is an even more fascinating beat than “Friction.” There are some cool beat and melody elements on the hard drumming anthem of “Hopeless Opus”, but the most memorable aspects here are the Asiatic undertones present – yet an inspection of the lyrics leads to, again, a frustratingly unclear picture, with the only semi coherent lyrics being “I've got this place / that I've filled with empty space / oh I'm trying not to face what I've done”, while other parts of the text refer to nonsense characters such as Mr. cage man, Mr. fate man, Mr. safe man, and Mr. post man, all entities that could represent daily fixes or necessities (such as Mr. post man being the one who delivers the much needed royalty check that the down and out entertainer is desperately in need of), though most of the language here is inaccessible and pretentious. By the time of “The Fall”, I am pretty exhausted by Imagine Dragons incoherence, even if I do enjoy the U2 attempts at wrap around feel good whimsical Rock – with a splash of that text book American Indie Folk ‘hope’ that fans can’t get enough of. Mission accomplished, and money in the bank, undoubtedly, but damnit, I honestly don’t know what any of these songs are on about, thematically, that is, at the end of the day. It’s just a bunch of songs about ill defined internal conflict, and after thirteen songs of this, I need some more music that is ‘clearly’ about something tangible.

Of All Pop Rock Bands, Imagine Dragons Have Set The Trend, Evidenced In The Satisfying Sound Of Album ‘Origins’

taylor
Written by taylor
/ 6 mins read

Imagine Dragons continue to be at the top of their game when it comes to writing and performing arena packers, just like a modern day Queen, and on Origins, the band may have even struck the same eclectic balance with respect to disparate genres that can be contained on one rock album, similar to Queen’s hit album The Game. Love them or hate em’, it has to be said that this successful Pop Rock band knows what they’re doing and what the widest group of fans will respond positively to. So, from a critical standpoint, it is always a challenge to assess an album whose clear design keeps their target audience in mind, over the artistic demands required through evolution. For instance, “Natural” is both annoying and awesome at the same time. This is Imagine Dragon’s “We Will Rock You”, and it is no surprise that it is a hit at halftimes across multiple sporting events since its release. The same-style slamming drums will motivate you to get back out on the court fired up, yet the hook, explosive as it may be, is sort of silly to behold. It strikes me as a swashbuckling way of delivering a chorus, with a fisted swinging up of the arms, in a ‘yo-ho-pirates-life-for-me’ affirmation. Dan Reynolds, a consummate singer, hits all off his rocky notes, but comes off extremely bratty and nasally – the type of aggressive expression that would probably make whomever it was addressed to roll their eyes, counting their blessing that they are no longer involved with such a man baby. The track pivots back and forth, typically, between low acoustic passages and these extreme, stadium-ready highs. This is designed to be ‘that’ hit, but its not nearly as cool sounding as previous titles such as the more recent “Thunder” – and rather, more like the structure of the annoying “Believer”. Which is to say, these cats keep making the same style ‘big’ songs.

Big Songs Are The Core Strength Of This Band

And yes, most of the Imagine Dragons tracks are big, as to be expected, but they go big in different ways, which is the strength of Origins as a whole. The standout is a track that didn’t pass mustard as a single, but should have – “Only” has a big-room-house complextro sound design that really works because it doesn’t just aim to copy the drops of the aforementioned genres, but instead incorporate that sort of electric energy into a Pop Rock delivery. This means that the music’s rhythmic flow is never interrupted in a lasting way by glitching gimmickry, and thus, the viewer can nod and fist pump along without the energy switching up too much, as tends to happen with overproduced dub step. The modern electro effects, loudest on the hooks, pair well with the smoother parts of the song – whether in the low moments or the build-ups. The lyrics and theme are deceptively simple for such a noisy song – exploring a man’s realization that “it’s just you and me / only / throwing out the key / just living in a dream.” He has fallen in love, is prepared to give this woman anything that she desires, and yet there is a certain “controlling” sexuality which states “my disaster, you're my only answer / you got me thinking that I could be your master.” Contradiction through rhyme? Well, it depends on the definition of ‘master’, but how can anyone earn the title of master when their life was just said to be a disaster – I mean, the chick is helping you out man, apparently, by saving you from yourself.

Must The Hit Songs Be So Conventional?

On “Zero”, I really wish Reynolds of Imagine Dragons would give up the rock-rap. Not that it can’t be done ‘well’, but it is a shame when it is done just ‘cuz’. The track would have benefited from some smarter decisions – and it suffers from that fact that every space seems to be packed with wordage. The word ‘zero’, which should have been uttered once, is repeated several times in succession, until a next rhyming word is found, and that pattern repeated. I say let the song and the words breathe. The verse parts contain an even more straightforward Hip Hop inspired delivery, falling pretty flat, though the song does pick up immensely when a Strokes type guitar riff jangles in, coupled with off-time triple claps, which add color to the beat. It is odd to think that bands such as these are well aware of the formulas that move audiences, but unfortunately, they go, in my opinion, for the lowest common denominator in almost ever situation. Kind of a whatever-gets-the-job-done attitude, when the talent and passion that such bands clearly have should be enough to draw upon.

II Really Celebrate The Positive Aspects Of This Album ‘Origin’, Yet Implore Imagine Dragons To Play To Authenticity With New Albums.

Every track has something right with it, and something wrong with it, and it really seems that this is by design. Genres as diverse as Pop, Rock, Synth Pop, Hip Hop and Reggae Fusion are all present – the latter sound especially present on another gem, “West Coast”. Heart warming acoustic guitar strumming serves as the bed for Reynolds lyrics, about his soul serving as a geographical sensation personified for the benefit of his lover; “I'll be your strong man, I'll be your West Coast / I'll be the sun, I'll be the waves, I'll be the one you love the most.” This type of writing is about as general as that which can be found in a forgettable country pop number – but who cares right - this is supposed to be pop music writing after all. The music itself is pretty enough, with a cozy, bonfire on the beach vibe, thanks to it’s folk-reggae style. And then come the prerequisite vocal ‘oohs’ and howls, yet, they come across not as cringe inducing as this critic would expect, somehow fitting quite nicely. Strange that this tired sing along device is allowed to exist entering 2019, yet one must concede that such chorale tropes serve as butter for Imagine Dragons’ pop toast.

Imagine Dragons’ Album Evolve Squanders An Opportunity To Do Something Great

Around the summer of either 2008 or 2009, I had moved across country from San Francisco to Rhode Island to check out schools & scrounge up money under the safety of my parent’s room after having gone broke funding my good-for-nothing bandmates in the years prior. I had plenty of free time, so on any given day I was either going to local shows to see what was new on the scene or watching Fuse TV to catch up on what was happening elsewhere in my favoured sonic demographic. A friend of mine had actually invited me to one of Imagine Dragons’ first shows on the east coast which I couldn’t make it to for work reasons, but peculiarly enough that previously-mentioned love of Fuse TV eventually brought the band back into my sights a couple short years later when their corny commercial for the ‘Fuse Logo Remix Contest’ started airing that summer – Naturally, I was flabbergasted by how quickly these guys went from hometown heroes to televised high-rollers pushing Sharpie products, so I decided to give them a listen, but boy, was I disappointed, finding their music to be incredibly generic & almost embarrassingly mainstream, so much so that I couldn’t even respect their decision to become sellouts after seeing how insanely-different their original Indie Dance Rock sound was just two years prior, resulting in me developing an instant hatred for them & their music in the years that followed. Fast-forward another seven years & I’m now a little less judgmental, actively going out of my way to explore genres I’d previously overlooked to see if my progressed age has made me kinder & more accepting of the true musicianship residing somewhere deep within the industry’s most marketable acts, extending this courtesy now to Imagine Dragons’ 2017 album Evolve to see if they really have evolved at all; I just had to know how they could possibly achieve such astounding worldwide success when my initial opinions of them were so disgustingly low, feeling like maybe I was just missing something in my adolescent rage that was truly innovative & entertaining in ways I refused to admit back then – Well, I can say with confidence today that Dan Reynolds & crew are certainly world-class performers with a knack for catchy composition, something we can likely attribute to their extensive music theory & music business educational backgrounds, but they’ve unfortunately let the media machine turn them into something terrible on Evolve, pushing aside some unmistakably magnificent arrangements in favour of satisfying the lowest-common-denominator of audiences with their more Pop-centric numbers.

Written by camjameson  / Feb 28, 2019

    Was Imagine Dragons’ Debut Album Night Visions Ahead Of Its Time, Or Just Directionless?

    If I’m being completely honest, I’ve sadly spent a grossly unnecessary amount of my career both as a musician & as a writer trashing Las Vegas-born Pop Rock band Imagine Dragons, going to great lengths to discredit their fame out of jealousy, disinterest & a generally misguidedly elitist mindset that somehow saw them as inferior songwriters who preyed on mainstream formulas to produce exceptionally-generic tunes audiences absolutely adored, essentially putting a stain on my status as a credible source for musical opinions since I couldn’t feasibly separate my prejudices from the hard facts of their incredible successes. Perhaps I was angry that they’d broken through to the waning MTV generation through what I believed to be sellout-level techniques, or maybe their initial promotional material left a bad taste in my mouth that prevented me from exploring the rest of the unknown tracks on their albums, but a casual playthrough of their latest record Origins piqued my interest as I found genuinely compelling compositions amidst its track-list full of anachronisms & progressive techniques worthy of my attention, persuading me to go back & thumb through their earlier entries in case there was something I’d been missing all this time – Naturally, I figured the best place to start on this adventure would be the very first studio album Dragons ever released, the nondescriptly-titled Night Visions from 2012 which sealed their fate as the industry’s replacement for aging Pop Rockers Coldplay, displaying in full their methodical application of music theory techniques learned at prestigious schools like Brigham Young University & Berklee College Of Music scientifically-proved to satisfy the vast majority of modern listeners. Coincidentally, I’d actually been exposed to & already-spiteful of the band by the time this record released after having learned of their existence whilst living on the East Coast & witnessing their decidedly-spineless promotion of Sharpie products on a FuseTV commercial, clearly contributing to my harsh criticism of the group as the scene I was involved in back then was all about integrity & the pursuit of narrative expressionism through music rather than Pop-centric ideals. As such, I went into this analysis with an open mind, hoping my maturation as a listener would help me appreciate Night Visions for the double-platinum certified, 2,500,000+ record selling behemoth that it is – Unfortunately, or perhaps delightfully, my hard-headed opinions would soon be validated by the utter lack of cohesion Imagine Dragons enacted in this album, confirming the 53% Metacritic rating it has so-rightfully earned by others in the industry; Still, as reaffirming as it may be for my own sense of pride, no musician truly finds pleasure in pouring salt into old wounds that’ve already suffered enough pain in the past.

    Written by camjameson  / Mar 15, 2019

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      About

      Imagine Dragons is an American pop rock band from Las Vegas, Nevada, consisting of lead vocalist Dan Reynolds, lead guitarist Wayne Sermon, bassist Ben McKee, and drummer Daniel Platzman. The band first gained exposure with the release of their single "It's Time", followed by their award-winning debut studio album Night Visions (2012), which resulted in the chart-topping singles "Radioactive" and "Demons". Rolling Stone named "Radioactive", which holds the record for most weeks charted on the Billboard Hot 100, the "biggest rock hit of the year". MTV called them "the year's biggest breakout band", and Billboard named them their "Breakthrough Band of 2013" and "Biggest Band of 2017". and placed them at the top of their "Year In Rock" rankings for 2013, 2017, and 2018. Imagine Dragons topped the Billboard Year-End "Top Artists – Duo/Group" category in 2018.
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        2008–present

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