Review Summary: Imagine Dragons try to stay relevant in the modern pop scene. They probably succeeded, but not thanks to the quality of their music or the intelligent songwriting.
Writing a review for an album you are excited about is very different than writing one for something that you didn’t like. at all. Now truth be told, for the last couple of years I didn’t dislike Imagine Dragons. I actually kind of liked their music, with the very big asterisk that this is compared to all the other garbage that you hear on your average easy listening radio station. It’s that ‘Hey, this ain’t that bad’ feeling you get every now and then while in the car, but never feeling the need to actually look them up on Spotify or whatever your favorite way of listening to music is. Imagine Dragons had a bit more edge to it and even though recently you couldn't properly hear that this was an actual band playing, you could still hear their rock roots, mostly in Dan Reynolds’ raw vocal delivery. This time around they created something, something…
… Something exactly the same I guess, be it less catchy. Their last record came out only a year ago, and it shows. ‘Natural’ has been the big lead single from this record, and is actually one of the better, more memorable songs on Origins. Now if you hated that, it tells you enough about the rest of the record. At 12 songs and a very modest runtime of 40 minutes, it’s staggering to see that there are actually fillers on this record, especially in the latter half of the record. Listening to the entire thing from front to back, one can’t help but get the feeling that they had a couple of songs they were happy with, and then the record label telling them to quickly write some songs (quality unimportant) so they could cramp out another record in no time.
When creating a record as fast as Imagine Dragons have, you can go two ways. Either you do what you have always been doing and play it safe to the extreme; or you go on an experimentation streak and see what interesting things you can come up with. With Origins, Imagine Dragons opted for the first option. The experimentation is being kept to a complete minimum, and I think this is actually for the better. I say this because their one big experiment, 'Digital', falls flat on its face. Given, this is also due to a bad mix, with a lot (LOT) of fuzz in the low end. The dubstep and drum ‘n base parts are so heavy in the low end, without any sounds in the low-mid. Add to that the fact that the vocals are doing their regular happy thing, with a weird screaming part in the bridge, and the whole thing just feels disjointed and without purpose. So clearly, safe is the way to go here.
The talent to write some excellent, catchy pop songs, even or maybe especially in collaboration with other artists, has always been there. Sparks of this can be found in the first couple of songs, with 'Boomerang', 'Machine', 'Cool Out' and 'Bad liar' being interesting enough to become hit singles in the future. Even on previous records, songs like 'Radioactive', 'Demons', and the already forgotten 'Warriors', created for the 2014 world championship of League of Legends, were pretty excellent.
‘Wow, wow, now wait just a minute’ you might say at this point. And I get you bro, so let me get this straight. When I say excellent, I mean that I can honestly see why the song became a hit. Not only that, but I also agree that these were good songs, in this case I call 'Warriors' even a great song. Compare this to the rest of the popular music these days, and songs become excellent in comparison. 'Warriors' was a song I even had on repeat for a time there. Now noted, I have been a League of Legends player since 2012 and it pushed some right buttons for me. Yet it portrayed exactly how I felt while watching the tournament. It was euphoric, the orchestration was very good and made it a very strong ‘anthem’. It was a collaboration that worked to the benefit of both the band and the song. This time though, they don’t deliver in their collaboration, being with Disney.
Zero, the song they created for the film ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’, is nothing short of atrocious. It is uninspired, boring and flat. For me this is the low watermark of the album, Imagine Dragons at their absolute worst. The song sounds like the entire band is just not enjoying what they’re doing. Even when vocal lines and melodies are uninteresting, the delivery can make all the difference. In this case though, Dan Reynold sounds like he just came out of bed and didn’t feel like clocking in at work today. Yet knowing Disney, Zero will probably be a hit as big as the movie will undoubtedly be (I just hope the movie deserved a better theme-song).
So here we are, a year later and another couple of potential hits on a record further filled with filler material that only the most die-hard fan will listen to more than once. The first half is decent, the second half almost unbearably boring. I wonder if, the next time I hear a new single on the radio, I will still get the feeling that this is better then 90% of the rest radio friendly garbage out there. I strongly doubt it, which is a damn pity.