For already wild fans, Smoke + Mirrors is even better of the same absolutely incredible things. For those with more cynicism, there is pleasure to be felt even though at times, you won't remember why.
Their first album, Night Visions may have arrived in the UK several months after its US release, but a large portion of the songs were already known. ‘Radioactive’ and ‘It’s Time’ were in so many game and film trailers, it’s possible another one of their songs was picked up for a dog food advert. That’s not a bad thing, but revisiting that album now, even the Deluxe Edition with an extra seven songs feels past its best already. It’s not that the songs are over-played but that they’re overproduced. Even their best song from that album, ‘Selene’ has got a little bit too much going on. For their hyperactive and blissfully ignorant teenage fans, Smoke + Mirrors had to be one of the most anticipated albums of their lifetime. Will it live up to their hype?
Yes, and it actually manages to improve upon their last album, even if it is still dotted with problems. Take the lead single ‘I Bet My Life’ for instance. It’s another foot-stomper, with an actual chorus of the crowd sound in the chorus. It might feel a lot like past songs ‘It’s Time’ mixed with ‘Demons’, but by the closing lines, you are unlikely to care. The guitar’s riffing complemented by the clapping and the in-and-out vocals of The Las Vegas Mass Choir are euphoric in the best way. It’s just enough of a distinction to make it not feel like filler, which unfortunately affects more than a few of the other songs.
Imagine Dragons are most well-known for crafting rock/pop song that have energy and optimism to them. When in ‘Dream’ they try to go a bit darker it falls apart. The melody is uninspired, the lyrics full of a slightly laughable anguish, yet it comes packaged with huge drums and tinkly guitar riffs that arrive all at once and then leave without a word. Dan Reynolds’ voice meanwhile does not convince on an emotional level. The best thing ‘Dream’ does is prove that he has a good voice; yet throughout Smoke + Mirrors the voice is overladen and pulled slickly through a production machine that removes its power, or reverbs portions behind it. Closing track ‘The Fall’ is a 6 minute melodic serenade, but on the high notes, Reynolds’ sounds heavily edited. In some tracks, it just doesn’t matter what his voice sounds like, because the net result of all the band’s work is something entirely listenable but forgettable, sometimes gratefully so. Gold has great lyrics which provide a cynical view on the band’s own sudden success, but the chorus is two lines of repetition. When Imagine Dragons fails to do a good chorus, you’d be forgiven for thinking all was lost.
Yet there are more than enough reasons to really like (even for some, to love) the end product. ‘Shots’ is a reflective song with a killer bit of 80s throwback, and even if ‘Hopeless Opus’ would sound better without the unintelligible and annoying vocal slice over the opening and bridge, its chorus will sweep you along. Album highlights ‘I’m So Sorry’ and ‘Trouble’ couldn’t be further apart stylistically, but that’s what makes them stand out. The former is a Royal Blood-esque track that will have you shouting along with the refrain – it’s a cheeky and slightly provocative song. The latter has the feel of a gospel troubadour with the lyrics ‘so pray for me brother/I need redemption/I’m just a man/a man on a mission’, the beating drums and a trumpet weaved into the mix. Both are fantastically different from everything else on the album, or what you will remember of them before. That more individual sound is what we should want from them next, not a song that feels tailored from several pieces of well-hewn cloth.
Smoke + Mirrors was released by Interscope Records on the 16th February