By Rachel A.G. Gilman
With the release of their 2012 debut, “Night Visions,” Imagine Dragons found a significant amount of success. The album went platinum in twelve countries and was certified gold in many others. The Las Vegas natives received a slew of accolades and awards, including Billboard’s “Breakthrough Band of 2013” and a Grammy for “Best Rock Performance.”
Now, the group has released their follow-up, “Smoke + Mirrors.” The album has an overall theme of apology and self-discovery in its lyrics, frequently addressing how the singer is taking responsibility for a mess and never shying away from a metaphor. When tracks are vulnerable, they are the most successful. However, many of the titles of the songs feel mismatched with what the track actually explores, causing both confusion and a somewhat dense feeling. If you want to listen to the best material, look no further than the singles.
The opening track, “Shots,” is the third single. Though more airy and synth-pop than the band tends to lean, the song is catchy. It mixes the serious imagery of lead singer, Dan Reynolds, having “shot a hole through everything” he claims to love while worrying about being out of touch and falling into what is “just [his] luck.” The bouncing beat works especially well when Reynolds goes into his falsetto on the pre-choruses.
The first single, “I Bet My Life,” is another apology track. It was, chronologically, the follow-up to 2012’s hit “It’s Time,” and rightfully so. It builds in the same fashion and responds to the idea that after having gone out and traveled the world, Reynolds is ready to come “running home.”
Similarly, “Dreams” could be seen as the rawer partner to 2012’s “Demons.” The song, which surpasses four minutes, is haunting as it grows. With each added verse explaining the messiness of the world, the drums and piano heighten just slightly until they come crashing into a dramatic, full-throttle chorus, which is eventually broken up by Reynolds quietly singing he wants to be left to dream, sung over light, repeated piano chords, drums fading away. Again and again this happens, until the band harmonizing for the darkly sentimental bridge.
Vulnerability can be found again on “Polaroid,” where Reynolds lists his faults through a series of “I’m” statements. In the background, you can hear a xylophone against the stronger downbeats of the drum as electric guitars strategically come in. The song swells appropriately toward the final chorus, never feeling overwhelming.
“It Comes Back To You” has a Coldplay vibe, frequently teasing the wispier vocals heard on the opening track and remaining relatively stable throughout. Lyrically, it also mimics the British band with a simple, frequently repeated chorus and somewhat vague but poetic verses, posing the question, “Am I just a shadow you drew?”
In its entirety, “Smoke + Mirrors” isn’t a complete masterpiece, but if you’re willing to flip through tracks, you will find some strong material throughout. It is definitely enough to validate Imagine Dragons as a more permanent fixture on the alternative rock scene.
Rachel A.G. Gilman is a staff writer. Email her at email@example.com