“Night Visions”, the album Imagine Dragons released in 2012, won the lauded American rock band the Billboard Music Awards’ Top Rock album in 2014. However, with the recent release of the album “Smoke and Mirrors”, and the immense hype surrounding it prior to release, can Imagine Dragons continue to mirror the standards that it achieved with its previous album, or is this album just smoke and little else?
Firstly, a little background information about the band: the band consists of Dan Reynolds (lead vocals) ; Wayne Sermon (guitar); Ben McKee (bass); and Daniel Platzman (drums). While having released albums way before “Night Visions”, the band only gained prominence with the release of hit Single, “It’s time”, reaching #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 by the end of 2012.
Now, back to “Smoke and Mirrors”:
“What are they playing?” was my initial reaction. This album, despite its melodic tunes and accurate harmonies, proved disappointing as most of the tracks sounded somewhat repetitive throughout my first listen. No track seemed to stand out for me as they all seemed to feature a similar, if not identical, musical progression.
As for the vocals, Dan Reynolds takes on a very different approach to his previous vocal style. From the clarity and sureness of his voice in songs like “Radioactive” in which he exuded confidence, strength and power, for “Smoke and Mirrors”, that persona is gone. Reynolds instead pitches a gentler tone, trying to hit the easy falsetto rather than belting out the lyrics like he used to do. Songs like the title track, “Smoke and Mirrors”, came across as softer than they might have been. Disappointingly, the lyrics in this album are full of insecurities and apologies rather than resonating with the raw and decisive vibe that “Night Visions” evoked.
The songs in the album try too hard to please everybody, resulting in a less-than-satisfactory gallimaufry of genres. There are flavours of indie, pop, and rock blended together, perhaps intended to bring in fans from all three genres. However, it now feels like a hybrid band with little sense of identity and where it wants to take its music to.
To be fair, “Smoke and Mirrors” is not a total dog’s dinner. Imagine Dragons does indeed get some memorable melodic hooks into many of the tracks. I found myself replaying songs like “Shots”, and “Hopeless Opus” while bobbing my head to the beat. The backing vocals, though mild, are spot on with the harmonies and raise an emotional thrill with tracks like “Gold.” Moreover, the band members are syncing better with each other in terms of their blended vocals and their instrumental mix. Dan Reynolds delivers great guitar work throughout the album; while the fantastic drum beats by Daniel Platzman and the catchy riffs by backing guitarists Wayne Sermon and Ben McKee really help to drive the emotional appeal of certain songs, providing much-needed support for Reynond’s choice to go light with his vocals this time out.
Overall, I believe that Imagine Dragons is still unable to find its true groove and what fits just-so just yet. While the production choices may not have been ideal for this album, the band still has the chops to maintain its worldwide recognition in that the music is still compelling, keeping the listener interested and inviting enough to prompt at least a second and maybe even a third listen.
Smoke and Mirrors was released on the 17th of February 2015.