Review Summary: Oh the (lack of) humanity!
Right from the first time I heard Evolve
, I already sensed something horribly wrong about Imagine Dragons’ latest disaster… but for the life of me, I couldn’t put my finger on it. On the surface, the album sounds like many other recent attempts by artists to gravitate toward the current synthpop and electropop sounds dominating much of the airwaves. After all, it’s all about flowing with the zeitgeist, right? Gotta fit in with the times? Granted, after two bland-as-cardboard pop rock efforts under their belts, Imagine Dragons didn’t really have much further down to go. And quite a few of the band’s trademarks can still be heard here, from the dreary tempos to the dull post-britpop Chris Martin-esque meanderings of lead singer Dan Reynolds. The synthesizers and percussion sound sterile as hell, and the guitarist makes such a small impression that I’m not sure if he’s even present at all. So, from that laundry list of failings, I was initially going to pass Evolve
off as a mediocre continuation of a mediocre career.
But then I remembered something. I remembered the very first time I ever separated the blurred line between “band” and “brand.” This was when I heard The Baha Men’s 2000 smash “Who Let the Dogs Out,” a song that became a huge pop culture milestone despite completely washing away any integrity its band used to have. Its cynical commercialism and clean “fun-for-all-ages” vibe were so upfront and in-your-face that even those who enjoyed the song still often regarded it as a guilty pleasure. And I can certainly understand that; in many ways, it really shouldn’t matter as long as you enjoy the music you’re listening to, right? Hell, I have my guilty pleasures too. I still regard Avril Lavigne’s debut Let Go
as one of my favorite pop rock albums of the 2000s for this reason, even though I completely acknowledge that it’s probably not up to the pedestal I’m putting it at. I just have a soft heart for a fun piece of nostalgia and bubblegum pop now and then. The same goes for Kesha’s album Warrior
, another bit of catchy fun that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
However, there’s something seriously wrong about Evolve
. I do, in fact, see this as a “brand” product rather than a “band” product, but the problem is in how that concept is executed. This band’s biggest sin has always been that they coat their bland and flavorless music in a layer of seriousness and I suppose what they call “depth.” Arena-ready beats are complemented by choruses of “ooh” and “aah” melisma vocals that try to inject big drama to watered-down pop instrumentation. But the way the band applied this to the electropop and dance elements of Evolve
just sounds… ugly. It sounds calculated and seedy in the worst ways, and I feel like I’m hearing a record executive’s wet dream straight from the studio this was recorded in. Not only does the mask of electronic music make Imagine Dragons sound even more fake, but it makes their blatant lack of life and energy a fucking slog to get through. Evolve
is only 39 minutes long, but it feels like 70 painstaking minutes of the same song being repeated over and over again.
Going back to the subject of the Baha Men, however, the reason I chose them for comparison is to explain how opposites can still attract. As grating and blatantly glossy as their signature hit was, at least it was delivered with enthusiasm and even some passion in the vocal deliveries. Basically, my criteria for these types of bands is: don’t bullshit us by acting deep when you’re not actually deep. But Evolve
is one of the few albums that has actually made me feel emptier with every listen. It’s a shallow, directionless pop record that doesn’t even have the sugary catchiness that could at least give it some value. Frankly, this album is disgusting and sets a dangerous precedent for other groups who might try the same tactics to get their records sold. The biggest problem with Imagine Dragons is that they take themselves too seriously with this type of music, and attained a Michael Bay-level ego that came with the mindset. I’m going to ask this question to anyone out there who’s in a band or doing a solo project: 20 years later, when you’re looking back on your old work, will you cherish it or regret it ever happened? The bank is truly a double-edged sword, my friends.