It was nearly impossible to go through 2013 without hearing one of many popular songs from Las Vegas rock band Imagine Dragons, whether or not you wanted to hear them. Songs like their smash hits “Radioactive”, “It’s Time”, and “On Top of the World” were placed on every commercial, sporting event, and movie for the entire year. Interestingly enough, the band’s debut Night Visions, which contained these hits, was released in September of 2012. While it had moderate success initially, the group really took off at the beginning of 2013, with Night Visions going on to sell over 2 million copies in the U.S. alone. The album itself was jam packed with catchy tunes, but was ultimately an unoriginal, bland attempt at indie rock. Imagine Dragons knows exactly how to excite the masses and write a compelling hook, but the band lacks real imagination and creativity.
Smoke + Mirrors, the band’s sophomore effort, takes a turn for the worse by lessening the amount of fun, indie rock jams and embracing a more bass heavy, stadium rock style. While their debut was bearable and somewhat enjoyable in spots, Smoke + Mirrors is a truly poor effort from the group. For an album filled with thundering choruses and spirited vocal deliveries, it’s truly difficult to stay awake throughout an album that should be exciting. One song bleeds into the next, and by the time the final minutes tick away, the listener has been put to sleep by such a dull piece of work.
The album’s best track is its first: the indie pop jam “Shots”. This track is much similar to the band’s previous work, with a lively beat and poppy synths. It’s difficult to not enjoy the addictive chorus, even if it feels like every other indie track you’ve heard in the last few years. However, the album fails to capture this feeling as the second track “Gold” begins the album’s quick decline in quality. The chorus of “Gold” sounds absolutely ridiculous, with heavy bass hits, screeching guitars, and synth horns. The lyrics are equally boring, with lead vocalist Dan Reynolds singing about everything he touches “turning to gold”. Truly original.
Much of the album feels like a desperate attempt to recreate the thundering power of the band’s most successful single “Radioactive”. The bombastic “I’m So Sorry” uses heavy guitar and bass work in place of any real substance or intrigue. The dreadful “Friction” combines the same heavy instrumentation with a sitar and annoying vocals. “Dream” is a sort of dubstep-rock mix that is reminiscent of an action movie soundtrack, but in a far more uninteresting and bland manor.
When the band is not trying to create a formulaic stadium anthem, Imagine Dragons are far less irritating and can be somewhat enjoyable. “It Comes Back to You” is a bearable piece of indie rock, bolstered by its lively drum beat. The album’s lead single “I Bet My Life” is undoubtedly catchy and one of the better tracks on such a boring album. However, a couple decent tracks cannot save this album from being truly terrible. Fans of the band will may be pleased with certain tracks on the album, but the band’s change toward heavy rock tunes will most likely annoy and/or bore anyone who tries to listen to them. It’s hard to believe, but Imagine Dragons have failed to even come close to their subpar debut.
Standout Track: “Shots”