After its debut studio album release of “Night Visions” in 2012, Imagine Dragons immediately became a sensation. As an alternative rock band with upbeat songs, its appeal spans across many different music tastes. The great success of its first album not only made the extended wait for its second album that much more difficult, but it also raised the expectations of listeners. It’s safe to say that the new album, “Smoke and Mirrors,” was nearly overdue.
The first track on the album, “Shots,” is tasked with setting the tone. It does so with a combination of rhythmic tones and well-crafted lyrics. The song manages to be catchy in a novel way. Rather than adhering to a typical pop beat, the unique electronic sounds pair well with hard-hitting lyrics like “I shot, shot, shot a hole through everything I loved.” This non-traditional manner of production is a theme for the album as a whole.
As the album progresses, each song continues to have its own unique sound. This is in large part achieved by the use of various instruments and devices. For example, the song “Gold” utilizes a mixture of whistling and clapping. Although this is unusual, it manages to all come together congruently.
Common within Imagine Dragons’ songs are heavy drum and guitar tracks. The percussion provides the underlying beat of the song that is then built upon, and the drumming is noticeably different in each song. These percussion differences explain the interplay between subtle drumbeats, more intense drums and synthesizer beats, depending on the song. Regardless, the drums still take a back seat to the husky and idiosyncratic vocals of lead vocalist Dan Reynolds.
Reynolds’ deceptively gruff sound is one with a vast range and distinct tone, and it is this musical flexibility that is vital in producing the band’s particular sound. His talent enables the music to adopt an array of personalities and emotions.
“Friction” stands out on the album for its distinguishable, but not necessarily welcome, characteristics. The prominent bass immediately shakes up the mood, but this isn’t necessarily a positive development. The sporadic rhythm evokes a feeling of disjointedness. To make matters worse, the vocals are overly loud in comparison to the background, which is actually well produced, but which fails to ever assert its presence in the song. In this case, the constructed melody fails to reach expectations.
That being said, the rhythms and styles intertwined within the album are more often successful than not. The ninth track of the album, “Dream,” is an example of such a feat. Its piano introduction and transition into vocals illustrates create the more sensitive nature of the song. The lyrics contribute to this as well. For example, the chorus boasts the intense lyrics “We all are living in a dream/ But life ain’t what it seems/ Oh everything’s a mess.” Every component of the track ties together to help it build up to its intense climax before softly fading out. Even with the presence of so many disparate melodies, the record still carries a sense of cohesion.
The beauty of Imagine Dragons in “Smoke and Mirrors” is that it is able to embrace its distinct stylistic preferences while still producing an album that does not feel fragmented. The songs all flow together as a whole, with each track almost leading into the next.
Together, they tell a story that, although hidden behind smoke and mirrors, illustrates a profound emotional depth. This journey culminates with the final track of the album, titled “The Fall.” The narrative of the songs has concluded by this point, allowing for this number to serve as a transition out of the auditory tale.
With the release of its second album, Imagine Dragons now stands at an intriguing place in its career. With this collection of songs being as worthy of accolades as the last, its transition from an unfamiliar alternative rock band into one of the faces of the music industry will soon be complete. Imagine Dragons should have the power to carry on against the tide of the industry.
“Smoke and Mirrors” ultimately shows that Imagine Dragons is improving its already stellar alternative rock. The music both harbors and evokes emotion while dabbling in an assortment of melodic strategies. The songs resonate with the listener, which is the key to successful music. Whether you are a die-hard Imagine Dragons fan or someone new to the band altogether, “Smoke and Mirrors” is well worth the listen.