March 20, 2015 Imagine Dragons – Smoke + Mirrors (Album Review)
Five years ago, a couple of friends attending college in Provo, Utah decided to form a band. They recruited a few musically inclined locals, graduates of Berklee, to complete the line-up and called themselves Imagine Dragons. Now consisting of Dan Reynolds (vocals; guitar), Daniel Wayne Sermon (guitar), Ben McKee (bass; keyboards), Daniel Platzman (drums), and touring member Ryan Walker (keyboards; guitar), Imagine Dragons first gained widespread attention at the Bite of Las Vegas Festival in 2009. Shortly before they were scheduled to perform, Train was forced to cancel their set because their lead singer, Pat Monahan, suddenly fell ill. Imagine Dragons, who, at the time, had not even released an EP yet, were asked on short notice to step in as a replacement, and that day the fledgling outfit played to over 26,000 people.
Despite the positive buzz surrounding them, it took Imagine Dragons until 2012 to release their debut full-length album, Night Visions, which includes the beloved single “Radioactive.” Both the album and its singles broke records and earned the band an impressive number of awards and accolades including multiple nominations and wins at the Billboard Music Awards and Grammy Awards, an American Music Award, and a World Music Award. Despite a break of over two years between album releases, the band’s popularity has continued to grow, and, like its predecessor, the most recent release, Smoke + Mirrors, also saw a rapid rise to the top of the charts. Produced by the band and English hip-hop producer Alexander Grant, aka Alex Da Kid, Smoke + Mirrors was released by Interscope Records and Grant’s own KIDinaKORNER label on February 17th 2015.
Smoke + Mirrors opens with a classic Pop-Rock tune, “Shots,” which has all the makings of a chart hit. It’s catchy and appealing, with high production, slick vocals, infectious rhythms, and interesting background sounds. Its melody shot through with passion, “Gold” is a dynamic, exciting song, featuring vocals with an unusual effect that makes them sound big and enticing. Slower and more sentimental, the title track, “Smoke + Mirrors,” is hauntingly beautiful. The vocals create the atmosphere, setting the scene for an emotional ballad. The groovy “I’m So Sorry” also features interesting vocal effects. At times, it is sweet and delicate, but on the whole, it is full of attitude, vibrant and distinctive. Like a carnival or a party full of soul, “I Bet My Life” is a joyful celebration of a song that will make even the most miserable day sunny and bright. In comparison, “Polaroid” is a more mournful expression, full of woe and yet still retaining some sense of hope. It has a lovely lilt, and its rhythms are calming and comforting.
The understated and hypnotic beats that characterize “Friction” will get under the listener’s skin, and this tune will remain in her head for days — not that she’ll complain about it. “It Comes Back To You” is deep and dark thematically, but the melody is light and summery, with uplifting falsettos and optimistic overtones. A melancholy song, the poignant “Dream” is a plea to be left alone, to be allowed to avoid the real world. A lively drum beat drives “Trouble,” and a stabbing piano gives it bite. “Trouble” is a call to arms, and, in its defiance, it’s reminiscent of some of the older Kings of Leon tunes. A wistful refrain,”Summer” is eerie at times, but it ultimately possesses the softness of a summer evening, rich and warm. “Hopeless Opus” combines unusual sounds, a fun, funky tempo, a rich and distinctive guitar solo, and a Hip-Hop breakdown to create an effect that is both bittersweet and heartening. The longest song on the album is the final track, “The Fall.” This song is gentle and touching, building and gaining momentum to the end of the track, which is full of hope and ends the album on a soothing note.
It is not often that an album grabs a person from the very first listen, but Smoke + Mirrors not only grabs its listener; it takes hold of his brain and immediately establishes itself as his new favorite CD. With several guaranteed hits on this album that will put “Radioactive” in the shade, Smoke + Mirrors is sure to be a huge commercial and critical success. It is totally infectious, a joy to listen to, and will keep Imagine Dragons where they deserve to be: at the top of the charts. CrypticRock give this album 5 out of 5 stars.