Review Summary: In order to be considered a sophomore slump, the debut actually has to be good, right?
When the music world recognizes Imagine Dragons as its biggest rock band, there’s a huge problem that needs to be solved. Despite taking most of their cues from indie pop/rock and hip-hop, even collaborating with rap producer Alex da Kid, the Las Vegas-based quartet fits only into the loosest definition of rock; they are a band and they play instruments, so why not, right? One thing that can’t be doubted, though, is that they are pretty successful. They currently have the fourth best-selling album of 2013, the record for most weeks spent on the Billboard Hot 100 with 87 and a 13-week #1 hit on Alternative radio under their resumé. Their popularity hasn’t been met without backlash, though, with severe detractors predicting them to become the “next Nickelback” in terms of mass-produced hate. Although that may be stretching it a tad, it’s not difficult to see where their disdain comes from.
With Night Visions
, Imagine Dragons briefly showed glimpses of potential in deep cuts like “Tiptoe” and the B-sides “Monster” and “America”, not to mention that the big hits “It’s Time” and “Radioactive” ranked amongst the record’s best. Yet the pre-release party for Smoke + Mirrors
kicked off with “I Bet My Life”, an admittedly weak choice, debuting with little fanfare aside from usage in a Sprite commercial. The track’s main flaw is simply how disjointed it is; the quiet, crooning verses juxtaposed with a loud, overly bombastic chorus flows as if they’re from two separate songs (and what the hell is that ear-splitting screeching playing over and over again in the background?). The same problem plagues “Gold” (which is incessantly dull in its own right and features more unpleasant background noises). It’s just lazy songwriting, which gets showcased far too often on here. Night Visions
had the occasional “On Top of the World” or “Underdog”, a piece of musical trash that was simply unforgiveable, but there’s a lot more where that came from on this album.
Smoke + Mirrors
is a tedious listen at times, and there are multiple factors as to why. Although it’s not a particularly long album (there’s only thirteen tracks on here, and the total running time is just over fifty minutes), one’s perception of time can be altered solely through the sheer awfulness of certain songs. The worst offender, “Polaroid”, sounds like Dan Reynolds decided to take some cues from Lorde, and the result is a clusterfuck of hip-hop beats, irritating vocal delivery and awful lyrics (could someone please tell me what the hell “the color of boom” is?). There’s also a fair deal of experimentation, and it’s hit-or-miss (mostly miss). “Friction” incorporates some Eastern influence, but the track is so loud and bombastic that it becomes grating instead of energetic. Similarly, “Trouble”, the band’s attempt at writing a fast-paced folk tune, just falls flat on its face. If there’s any glimmer of hope to be found, it’s on occasional moments of greatness like the synthpop-tinged opener “Shots” and the guitar-driven “Radioactive”-lite “I’m So Sorry”, both of which capture their penchant for catchiness and energy.
Many people have written off Imagine Dragons simply for being successful and having their songs blasted on the airwaves habitually. Those people are wrong. Imagine Dragons shouldn’t be disliked because of overexposure; they should be disliked for making low-quality music. They may pretend to be this huge “rock” act with alternative credibility, but they’re essentially nothing more than a pop band posing under the guise of indie to seem cooler and more "hip”. While songs like “Dream” showcase their potential for writing heartfelt, genuine music, it’s drivel like “I Bet My Life” and “Friction” that remind me of the countless times Imagine Dragons have disappointed with lazy songwriting and irritating musical choices. Even though Night Visions
had its fair share of filler, it was just that: filler. It wasn't rage-inducing, irredeemable waste. Just don’t write this off as a sophomore slump just yet. After all, in order to be considered a sophomore slump, the debut actually has to be good, right?