Imagine Dragons releases an angsty monster
Jimmy Kemper | Wednesday, February 18, 2015
There’s this great scene in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” where Frankenstein’s monster, lost and alone in the world, happens upon John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and starts reading it. He quickly realizes the stark contrast between his creation and that of Adam — Adam was created lovingly in the image of his creator, God, while he was cobbled together into a wretched, pitiful monster.
The new Imagine Dragons album, “Smoke + Mirrors,” is sort of like that: a tragic monster that should have never been made. “Smoke + Mirrors” suffers from an identity crisis much like that of Frankenstein’s monster. Instead of developing and refining their own sound, Imagine Dragons sheds all identity, both lyrically and sonically, to create a disturbing monster of an album that bears very little merits other than its ambitious attempt to appeal to as many people as possible.
Imagine Dragons has it within its power to create something artistically beautiful; lead singer Dan Reynolds has such a powerfully unique voice that they could easily carve out a permanent and important place in rock history for themselves. Rather, it seems that Imagine Dragons are satisfied with being pop rock flavor of the month entertainers, creating as large and as dull of a fan base as possible to sell out arena tours and $50 t-shirts.
In terms of sound, this identity crisis means listeners are in for a pretty scary time. Where Frankenstein had body parts collected from different cadavers that didn’t really fit together, “Smoke + Mirrors” has instruments and synthesizers that just don’t work. The tracks on this album have influences ranging from folk to blues to hip-hop and everything in between. So we’ll get Lumineers-esque whistles and claps, Of Monsters and Men’s “heys!” and “ohs!” and the beginnings of a Kanye-sounding beat. And guess what? That’s all on the same track, “Gold.” It’s like Imagine Dragons went flipping through radio stations, found the most annoying elements of popular songs and stuck them all into one unholy body. It didn’t work for Dr. Frankenstein, and it certainly doesn’t work for Imagine Dragons.
These flaws are just symptoms of that ever-present identity crisis. If you were to ask me what Imagine Dragons sounded like, I couldn’t tell you. Sure, it’s vaguely arena rock and all of the songs embrace generic angst, but beyond that, I couldn’t tell you much about a uniting sound.
Speaking of generic angst, the lyrics suffer from being basic. If you thought “Demons” was lacking any real personality, then you haven’t heard “Polaroid” yet. Reynolds swings from cliché to cliché without break in this lackluster headache of a song. Reynolds claims he’s a reckless mistake, a rolling freight train and a guy who lives in the fast lane all in the span of about a minute. Bleh. At least here Reynolds tried to include some variation. In lead single “I Bet My Life,” Reynolds tells you that about 20 different times.
My problem with Imagine Dragons isn’t in who they are, they’re talented musicians with a charismatic stage presence, my problem is that they’ve bastardized alternative rock and created this strange, angsty monster of a sound that isn’t trying to make better music, but rather just pick and choose the best parts of what’s already out there and hope for the best.
“Smoke + Mirrors” is a pretty bad album, but I hope Imagine Dragons can learn from this mess and put the pieces together better next time.
Recommended Tracks: None of them. Don’t listen to this album.
Similar Artists: Nails on chalkboard, your 13-year-old brother’s garage band