Imagine Dragons are certainly the band that put themselves on the alternative rock map in 2014. Although now you’ve heard their greatest hits from Night Visions “Radioactive” and “Demons” on the radio way too many times to count, no one can deny their catchy likeability. In fact, one thing they clearly excel at in their genre is anthemic ballads that explode from blaring instruments and pounding drumbeats. Now that their name is out there, Imagine Dragons do a little experimenting on their newest full-length, Smoke + Mirrors. This lengthy reach for mainstream alternative has its bumps in the road, but the solidity of their catchy tunes is the ideal airbag – highlighting what Imagine Dragons really thrive in.
The search for diversity and flare is a bit of a disastrous on Smoke + Mirrors at first. It’s easy to decipher the conflict between staying true to their sound and trying new things. The sounds of each song vary, however each of these samples are generic versions of the styles, ending in a bland outcome. Colors of The Black Keys, Coldplay, and Passion Pit all touch on one song or another on this album, clearly mapping out the directions Imagine Dragons are leading towards. However, the issue is this: their indecisiveness only leaves listeners confused. They open with the commonly synth based “Shots”, then try for an ambient rock sound on “Smoke + Mirrors”, then irritate the ears with the unoriginal and elementary melody of “Polaroid”. They do start to get places on the finale “The Fall”, however. They come so close to a riveting closer, accompanied by anticipating sound effects and orchestra, but fall short in terms of a hook to drill into the listeners head, which is also the most important part.
But remember, Imagine Dragons have done anthemic before, and certainly fulfill these expectations on a few tracks of Smoke + Mirrors. The thrilling niche they have for powerfully melodic tracks is what put them in the spotlight and what ultimately will keep them there. Little, catchy grooves like the guitar riffs and intense rhythm of “I’m So Sorry” or the chanting chorus of “I Bet My Life” are golden moments of Imagine Dragons’ honorable skills. Although their style shifts normally end in disappointment, they were able to successfully translate their skills on tracks like “Summer”. It has a classic, uplifting feel of exactly what the title is: summer. The light and airy atmosphere provided by the distorted guitar riffs and psychedelic instrumentals stand out on Smoke + Mirrors without sounding too common. “Friction” is the one other time Imagine Dragons surprise listeners with an abstract style. This funky groove supplemented by tribal and staccato rhythms and sounds, on top of sexy vocal intonation, leaves this track being the most fun and exciting track on the album by far. It’s the only song on the record that really makes me want to move, and I want more.
Smoke + Mirrors is a typical sophomore album from a band whose first was very impressive. It’s clear that their strategy to find mainstream by cutting through different paths only left us all lost along the way, but the record did have it’s few potential hits. Now after more musical experimentation, it’s evident that Imagine Dragon’s trademark is their explosive rock anthems; when they concentrate on this theme and add more creativity to it, they come up with hits like “Friction” or “Radioactive”. This is their pace being set, now let’s see how they run with it.