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Imagine Dragons’ Sophomore LP Features Confusing Musical Array

Showtime should come out with some intense new TV shows solely because the American rock band Imagine Dragons’ freshly released Sophomore LP would make an appropriate soundtrack for any melodramatic drama. Aside from making for some decent background music, however, Smoke + Mirrors’ decidedly mainstream vibe fails to rekindle much of the Radioactive spark Imagine Dragons once ignited.

Smoke + Mirrors, released on February 17th, runs for 50 minutes – 10 minutes less than their 2012 debut album Night Visions which included breakout songs like “It’s Time,” “Radioactive” and “Demons.” Now, three years later it appears Imagine Dragons, which formed in 2008, is perhaps running out of inspiration. Their new track list does include some of the band’s more recent hits including I Bet My Life and Gold, which, despite popularity, sound like subpar redoes of true Imagine Dragons gold of yesteryear. It seems the band thinks adding more angst means adding strength; unfortunately this is not that case for Smoke +Mirrors, especially when this strength is only added to a portion of the album.

With a nearly identical sound to the band’s original top songs, Smoke + Mirrors is plagued with a half-hearted intensity that falls below the level of metal, yet includes too much scream-like singing and electronic elements to be considered pure rock. Repetitive lyrics riddle nearly each song and bank on the title word to create ordinary and literal meaning.

The ferocious guitar strumming and sporadic shouting in “Im So Sorry” resembles a sub-par remake of Billy Squier’s “The Stroke,” while “Dream,” could pass as a OneRepublic song albeit without much of OneRepublic’s catchy instrumental dynamics and thoughtfully constructed lyrics. Later in a more mellow tune, lead singer Dan Reynolds repeatedly moans, “We all are living in a dream/But life ain’t what it seems/Oh everything’s a mess” throughout each chorus. The soft instrumentals leading into the lyrics are soothingly mellow but are ultimately dulled by repetitive vocals. Ultimately the single line reaches a breaking point where the lack of tonal variation melds into an unbearably annoying stream of noise.

The first song of the album Shots has its moments of excitability but sounds like something the band has already produced. It sounds like it could work perfectly during the end credits of the next rom-com starring Ashton Kutcher. The overall sound of the song is discombobulated: A little lit bit of run of the mill Imagine Dragons excitement, a little bit of poorly rendered choral overlapping and harmonizing, some cool electronic-sounding scales and just a generous dab of 80s falsetto. In their top song Gold, a similar effect occurs. The lyrics must repeat the word “Gold” alone at least a hundred times interspersed with an attempt at an electronic effect that resembles disrupts the flow of the song like a human hiccup. Nonetheless Reynolds sings with an electric grandeur highlighted by a strong guitar solo. These two tracks ultimately prove to be the most successful despite theatrical peaks and valleys.

One of the final tracks, however, truly breaks the album. “Hopeless Opus,” renders Smoke + Mirrors a questionable production.  The song’s beat revs up with a fairly catchy rhythm, and declines instantly once a layer of painfully out-of-tune vocals infiltrates the sound. Reynolds’ choice of words is underdeveloped to say the least. The song appears to be an attempt at referencing and more peculiar song by the indie pop band Of Montréal titled Hopeless Opus Or The Great Battle Of The Unfriendly Ridiculous. In the Imagine Dragons remake, Reynolds muddles along in a tedious lament: “Oh I’m trying not to face what’s become of me/My hopeless opus.” The sporadic interjection of the phrase “hopeless opus” throughout the chorus is unsettlingly weird and may inspire giggling.

Smoke + Mirrors is not mediocre. The enthusiastic energy with which the band crafted most of their tracks is apparent.Reynolds’ passionate singing is complimented by climactic guitar-heavy instrumentals, which makes emotionally investing in his songs easy. Nevertheless, Smoke + Mirrors is exactly what its title suggests: Their overall aesthetic is confounding. A second album should effectively develop upon a pre-existing sound and propel a musical artist further toward realizing their conceptual potential. While its original sound rings clear, Imagine Dragons’ has yet to follow a single musical trajectory. As of now, it appears their trajectory is more soundtrack than the top 10 they will likely achieve.

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