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Album Review: Imagine Dragons – Smoke + Mirrors

Nevada’s Imagine Dragons release their sophomore album with the help of Target, the Grammys, and a ton of publicity.  How does Smoke + Mirrors stack up to the success of their debut Night Visions?


Text Review:

It’s hard to believe that with the wild success and popularity of Imagine Dragons that they have only had one full album up until this month.  After 2012’s inescapable Night Visions you couldn’t watch a TV show trailer or go to any public event without hearing Radioactive or It’s Time.  Having your debut alternative rock album go double platinum in today’s music market is nothing short of epic and it appears that the road is wide open for these Nevada boys.

Now two and a half years after Night Visions comes the band sophomore album Smoke + Mirrors.  With it comes high expectations to match the buzz and live up to the success that they reached with their debut.  The sophomore slump is a term in the music business and has been known to flat out kill music careers, however in the case of a band who has seen success out of doing the things the old fashioned way of recording, touring, and playing, Imagine Dragons have potential to survive.

While I loved the song Radioactive and do think Imagine Dragons have talent, it’s interesting to hear that the goal of Smoke + Mirrors is to be different than Night Visions.  In an interview about the new album, Dan Reynolds said that the next album will be stripped back quite a bit…we embraced a lot of hip hop influences with Night Visions, but I think the next record will be more rock-driven…there is some weird stuff going on in these songs.

So after an enormous promotional deal with Target during the Superbowl and performing at the Grammys, it appears that the publicity machine for Imagine Dragons have held nothing back and put these four men in the perfect position to release a new album.

It was over a month ago that the song I Bet My Life was released on radio.  This is the quintessential upbeat alternative song that could not possibly Identify Imagine Dragons any better and is destined for upcoming summer movie trailers.

Dan Reynolds’ vocals are smooth and the percussion is what carries this song.  The chorus is the perfect radio and advertising sample that sounds like it was formulated by a team of research geniuses.  The pacing in this song goes from loud to slow and whisper quiet with just the hint of acoustics.  If anything, I Bet My Life is proof that Imagine Dragons can vary their style and talents in just one song.

What stands out to me the most is the format of this song.  It was made for pop-rock exposure with it’s one line repetitive chorus.  That is in no way a bad thing, but it does give the feeling that this song was made with label executives watching over the band as they wrote.

While I bet My Life may sound formulaic, there are plenty of other songs, all with different styles, that make up for the radio format that was presented earlier.  The second single Shots feels much more like an original experience and gives a better definition of what this band is capable of delivering.

The keys and drums in Shots and the consistently mellow vocals all melt together beautifully in this song.  It’s a great way to open an album that breathes this more upbeat alternative style and it gives a slight uplifting feeling when you hear it.  It many ways I think this song will help carry Smoke + Mirrors much further than I Bet My Life.

In many ways, I feel split about the songs on this album.  While there are some songs that don’t do much for me but I can tell have something, and some songs that I feel like I could go the rest of my life without ever hearing again, there are other songs that are Golden and stand out like a jewel for a band.  At no way is this a bad album, but if every track was as memorable as Shots, Trouble, and the title track, then this album would be a total opus.

With the marketing and publicity boost that Imagine Dragons has received I have no doubt that Smoke + Mirrors will sell well and help the band continue their careers.  Whether or not this album will stand up to Night Visions though will be left to decide by the consumer, especially of the won over fans that now swoon over this group.

Overall, Smoke + Mirrors may not be the most complete and perfect experience, but when this album gets a hit, it shatters your expectations.  If you at all enjoyed Shots or have enjoyed the style of this group in the past, then you should be more than satisfied with this album.  If you are new to Imagine Dragons, then you may want to check out some more of their material before diving into the smoke.