Album Review: Smoke + Mirrors by Imagine Dragons

So with a basic scan of my Twitter (exhibits A, B, C, D, E, etc.), it’s obvious to tell that I was really excited about the release of the new Imagine Dragons album, Smoke + Mirrors, on Tuesday. I mean, why wouldn’t I? I’ve been an avid fan of the group ever since they released their EP Continued Silence, and Night Visions is one of my favorite albums since the start of the 2010s. Take that along with the fact that I’ve seen them live twice, once where I was like RIGHT HERE DUDE (!!!!!!), and my excitement is justified.

The comments coming in from the band was that their sophomore try was going to be muuuuch different than the stuff that was put on Night Visions, and they were right. Yeah, it had that traditional, real catchy stuff that we’re used to hearing from them, but there’s a whole lot of new influences this time around.

So let’s get right into the track-by-track review! Songs are rated 0-10, 10 being the best because I’m not a weirdo.

1.) “Shots”

This was the third single released prior to the album’s release, so I was already used to this song by the time I gave the whole thing its first run through. This is, like I mentioned, a very Imagine Dragons-y song: synthesizers checking in, choppy guitar riffs, Dan Reynolds singing that infectious chorus. This is all weird because this song, about making it up to those who you’ve wronged or getting things back that you lost, is disguised as a feel good track. When listening to this one, it’s hard to not think of Lil’ John yelling “SHOTS” or “EVERYBAHHDAAYYY,” but once you get past that, you’ve got a solid song all around, one that’s a perfect opener for the album to get the energy goin’. If you liked “Amsterdam” on Night Visions, you’ll like this one. 8/10

2.) “Gold”

This is where we start to venture into some new sounds, but the dubsteppy element is still present. The whistle-scattered and second single “Gold” feels like it almost has some Latin influence sprinkled in. It reminds me of almost a sequel to “Radioactive,” musically at least, so that’s always a good thing. The start with the cool effects is a nice touch, and lyrically, the song is accurate as it sort of summarizes how the band member’s lives have changed ever since blowing up. The lyrics “First comes the blessing of all that you’ve dreamed/But then comes the curses of diamonds and rings” and “Who can you trust/ When everything, everything, everything you touch turns to gold?” obviously show this. Supporting statements with facts, high five bro. But alas, the song doesn’t really get all of the “Fuck yeah!” juices flowing, just a fair amount of them. 7.5/10

3.) “Smoke and Mirrors”

At this point, it feels as if all the songs are building off of each other. Some more dubstep elements get thrown in on the chorus here, but Dan Reynolds, with the exception of yelling “I WANNA BELIEEEEEEVVVVEEEEE” doesn’t really flex the golden pipes with a lot of power but rather with a softer, smoother voice, which we really didn’t get in the past. Same deal musically: it’s weird because yeah, it’s a song with synths and electronic influences, but it’s pretty mellow. The new direction for the band seems to be, after three songs, summarized by this: make new styles, but keep the old; one is silver, one is gold. But at this point, I’m starting to feel left hanging a bit. 7/10

4.) “I’m So Sorry”

So it starts off kinda quiet, with Wayne Sermon playing the same notes a few times in a row with some help in the background, it slowly builds, and then WHAMMY! Something we’ve never ever EVER heard from the Dragons: a bluesy, heavy, and just overall sexy guitar riff that reminds me of The Black Keys. Reynolds’ voice mimics this attitude as well, matching the feelings conveyed. I saw that the name of a song was gonna be “I’m So Sorry” and I, for one, wasn’t expecting a badass song like this. There’s a part in there where it gets soft again and Dan Reynolds hits some high notes, but other than that it’s a pure adrenaline builder. A great track from start to finish, this proves that Imagine Dragons are willing to experiment, and they do it with great results. Also, this song would be just incredible live, so that’s an added bonus. This is a turning point song: The first three songs were a lot like Night Visions but gradually crept away from that general sound. From here on out, it’s pretty much a new Imagine Dragons. 9/10

5.) “I Bet My Life”

This is the one everyone already knows, considering it was the first single released for the album a couple of months back. It, again, shows that new side to the Dragons that we haven’t seen, as it’s full of gospel inspired sounds. And to make this sound really cheesy, this song performed live would make an arena sound like a church singing together. I mean, it’s the perfect stadium anthem; just imagine everyone in unison singing, “AAAAA ABAMALAAA.” The powerful singing matched with the lyrics about Dan Reynolds fixing his relationship with his parents, and some badass chords from Wayne Sermon make this a solid track. 8.5/10

6.) “Polaroid”

This one’s a bit more subdued, and it’s a change of pace considering tracks 4 and 5 are loud ass bangers. But the thing is: it shows the same influences as before. The band seems so versatile in changing at this point; “Polaroid” has a lot of those same elements as the song before it, with a gospel-esqe clapping in unison, power ballad singing, and lyrics about redemption and how Reynolds has felt like dead weight his whole life; it’s a bit of a tell-all for him, which is interesting to hear. However, this is a blue balls song: It builds a bit more and more at it progresses, but never reaches that pinnacle of jubilation. I’m left hanging, and I get musical blue balls. And the thing is, a build up leading to that jubilation would have been PERFECT, lining up with the final lines of preparing to hear shit from critics and haters about opening up and showing his true colors. Buttttt it didn’t happen, and that knocks it down a few pegs for me. A pretty good song, but still blue balls-y. 6.5/10

7.) “Friction”

And now time for something completely different! More changes! This is almost reminiscent of some old Fall Out Boy mixed with Rise Against, and some almost, like, Hindu sitar shit in there (that all made sense in my mind but I’m not sure it makes sense to you, whatever). It’s the most aggressive song on the album, and the title of the song definitely helps that claim. The powerful drums from Dan Platzman complements the rest of the track well, and Wig Sermon proves, yet again, that he can play anything. 8/10

8.) “It Comes Back To You”

It’s clear that Imagine Dragons can make their own stuff, but it’s also equally as clear that they’re influenced by other artists before them. This song, musically, sounds like it could easily be on U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind or Achtung Baby. Lyrically, it’s a different take on the whole idea of fame, much like “Gold.” Reynolds sings about his trips to therapy to find himself artistically and how he can break free of some of the chains that the newfound fame of his band has attached him to. “Mockingbirds and diamond rings/I have thought of greater things” really sums up the idea of all this fame not really being what it’s cracked up to be. It seems, genuinely, that all these guys wanna do is make some bitchin’ music; the fame isn’t the drive for them. But I digress, it’s a cool song with an interesting message, but it’s a song that’s on the outside looking in on the elite songs from the album. It’s a bit of a waste track, if you will. 7/10

9.) “Dream”

If the soft, dragged out verses with powerful choruses of “Demons” and the dominant drumming of “Gold” had a love child, it’d be “Dream.” However, two good things combining don’t always make something. “Dream” is underwhelming to say the least, and is the album’s only fairly significant miss. I can see why it’s subdued, because it speaks to the idea that nothing is how it seems. You’re expecting a huge song whenever you listen to these guys, but then you’re handed this track; that lines up, in a way, with the fact that everyone, no matter how popular they are, have their issues that can be hidden from most people. While that seems to be the major theme, along with fixing past mistakes, on the album, this song just doesn’t really do much for me. 6/10

10.) “Touble”

Now THIS is something I can get behind. High energy? Check. Kick ass instrumentation, especially with the precessions? Check. A different message? Check. The high energy song sounds like something out of a critically acclaimed indie movie trailer, and the acoustic guitar matched with the pitter patter of the snare sounds terrific. As for the lyrics, Dan still talks about how he’s been trying to find himself and how the “glitz” and “glam” ain’t what it’s cracked up to be. This time, however, he seems to have reached a new approach. He’s reaching out to those he loves, his brother and sister, and is taking some initiative and acting upon how he feels. It’s a relatable song, and it really gets the feels going. 9/10

11.) “Summer”

Forget about the message for two seconds: this song just sounds dope. Mellow, but not dull, I could easily see myself jammin’ to this song on the beach in the….wait for it….summer. It’s just so chill! And this time, Dan wants this other character to open up to him genuinely, without the “opulence” being a factor. He wants someone to connect to, someone to make it feel like the best time of the year; liberated, relaxed, and easy going. But once he sees that glitz and glam in the other character, he’s not interested. At this point, it seems like we have a bit of a concept album, about the great divide between rags and riches, something that not a whole lot of artists touch upon. 8/10

12.) “Hopeless Opus”

Dan’s at an all-time low in this track. Again, the emotions, guys, the emotions! He’s emotionally drained trying to find himself at this point, and is a in such a rut that he’s asking a post man for a “green note,” so probably money by my genius deductions. I think that’s a metaphor for something much more, because this whole time he’s been singing about not wanting all of the fortunes of being a singer. No, this “green note” is probably a symbol for happiness, which he just wants to make “broke” with, breaking even. This post man, too, could be God, or his loved ones as a whole, anyone who he feels can deliver this happiness. So while not the happiest track on here, at least the guitar solo that Wig shreds is awesome!!! It’s an epic sounding sound!!! And it’s another cool arena sing along song!!! We’ve got that going for us, right?! Am I right guys? *laughs* *laugh slowly turns into soft cry* *laugh is now a pretty obvious cry because of the emotions* *grabs ice cream* 8.5/10

13.) “The Fall”

Sorry about all that, I’m collected now, I’m good. And (this is where I get really cheesy) guess who else is? Dan! This whole time, he’s been discussing how the notions passed onto him by others about fame and fortune don’t interest him, but have made him lose himself for a while. These visions of popularity can line up well with summer: bright lights, a lot going on, shit like that. But now, Dan is “ready for the fall/(He’s) ready for everything/That I believed in to drift away.” He starts the song contemplating about everything, but he eventually has an epiphany: he needs to live for himself, and do what he wants to make himself happy. Fuck what others have had him believe/the summer, he’s ready to do his own thing/the fall. Terrific, terrific, terrific. Wonderful symbolism. This song is even better because it’s an accumulation of everything that’s been said. We’ve finally got that solution to the issues at hand, and that’s big. The music does this idea justice too. It’s an epic sounding song: positive, full of echoes and big drums, building energy, the whole nine yards to make this song jump out at you. And, again, it’s a song I’d totally enjoy live. Altogether, it’s an excellent ending to an excellent album. 9/10

Overall

So it started out big, lulled for a song or two, and then rose again like the phoenix. What an album. Bravo to Imagine Dragons, who deserve to be one of the biggest acts in the world. The thing that this band does better than most other musicians in the mainstream media now is, and this might shock some people, address things that others don’t really address! GASP! A huge act not spewing out some corporate bullshit that’ll sound good on the radio?! I know, right?! Crazy! Unheard of! Blasphemy! And musically, they aren’t afraid to experiment. Some acts always dance with the girl who got them there and get really boring, yes I’m looking at you Linkin Park and Pitbull, but in 2015, a true gauge of musicians is their ability to experiment with different sounds. Some do it well, like Kanye, some don’t, like Taylor Swift (stay in your lane biatch). While I might not necessarily like these new sounds, I’ll be damned if I don’t respect artists who try to expand their catalogue. Imagine Dragons went into uncharted territory lyrically and musically and, luckily for us, the result is fucking awesome.

I know this is really cheesy but I don’t care, I mean this:

There’s no smoke and mirrors here, folks. Imagine Dragons are here to stay.

Final Grade: 8.5/10

Editor’s Note:

This opinions expressed in this review do not in any way reflect the views and opinions of Stitched Up, it’s board of trustees, or the University of Massachusetts.