Smoke and Mirrors is the highly anticipated second studio album by American rock band Imagine Dragons. This album, supposedly written by Dan Reynolds in hotel rooms on his band’s recent world tour has been self-produced by the band’s members together with the imaginative production of British producer Alex da Kid, (aka Alexander Grant), which helps to deliver the songs with their own identity. The deluxe version of the album includes 5 additional tracks and the super deluxe contains an additional 8.
After years of playing in half empty gambling clubs in Las Vegas and small backrooms across the UK, Imagine Dragons (“Imagine Dragons” is really a pseudonym, an anagram of their “real” name, known only to the band) found themselves facing a sold out world tour. Following the surprise popularity of their single ‘Radioactive’ which turned out to be the biggest rock hit of the year Dan Reynolds, lead singer stated ”Everything went crazy.”
The group, whose songs vary from driving power pop to singalong melodies, anthem crowd pleasers to retro synthetic renditions frequently sound like a mixture of Mumford & Sons, The Killers, Arcade Fire, Maroon Five and Coldplay – a synthesis of loved commercial influences – yet still retain a uniqueness that is instantly recognisable; this winning combination continues with this new release.
This album clearly succeeds in combining the frantic energy of life on the road to deliver an intense rawness in the band’s music. They have focused on using formulated beats to create instinctive rhythmic rock music but with a twist. This formula does however err on the side of caution that occasionally leaves a blandness and assurance that their music could not possibly offend.
I Bet My Life is the lead single from this new album Smoke + Mirrors, a triumphant song with a folky vibe and sing a long chorus that reinforces their alternative formula and, like Radioactive is likely to be heard on radio stations for many months to come.
Shots released in the wake of I Bet My Life combines electro synth and soulful yet sinister guitar rifts that have a definite air of U2, resulting in a sing-a-long that would be loved on the Glastonbury Main Stage.
The next release, Gold with it’s styled shouts and gasps to provide a background beat, features distinctive Arcade Fire harmonies set against a tribal chanting background.
This heavily produced rebellious slow number succeeds in showcasing Reynolds’ impressive vocal range and provides another guaranteed hit due to the huge hip-hop inspired chorus.
Smoke + Mirrors hints at subversive elements – introducing an element of Nine Inch Nails inspired melodies and incorporating a variety instruments and melodies from around the world but hidden within the same trusted pop structures Imagine Dragons have previously relied on.
This said, I’m So Sorry fails to deliver, resulting in a cheesy rock song with elements that would not be out of place on a Bad Company album that is definitely not worthy of this album.
The title track Smoke + Mirrors has gentle clear vocals and is a gentle swaying track with rolling waves interspersed with ‘muse-like’ guitar rifts and a bursting chorus.
Dan Reynolds sings with the kind of fervour and his performance throughout is commendable, his alternating high-and-low vocals offering a dynamic that is clearly highlighted on tracks such as Trouble – a bright, fast paced and catchy Mumford & Son’s inspired track.
Unfortunately Polaroid, with it’s definite Coldplay influence just does not seem to get going and is disappointingly flat.
Friction with Indian influences lends us a reedy staccato yet strong vocal delivery interspersed with softer melodic breaks that makes for a fresh and catchy track.
It Comes Back To You is an easy listening, simple, melodic track, repetitive but unoffensive and one that suits Reynold’s voice surprisingly well.
Dream sees a change from electro synth vibes to that of piano, clear vocals and a strong bass drum beat throughout. The depth of this track stretches Reynold’s voice perfectly which successfully portrays angst and more feeling akin to Chris Martin and definitely shows the best of Imagine Dragons.
Trouble is bright, fast paced and catchy Mumford rendition, followed by the calypso vibes set against an ethereal backing track in Summer
Hopeless Opus is forgettable, with weak harmonies yet the following track The Fall successfully changes tempo with steel drums, strong rhythms and successful tempo changes – another Imagine Dragons classic interpretation!
Thief is fast paced and upbeat and will be a festival favourite as will Warriors which features bucket loads of strong catchy anthemic vocals delivered with power and confidence
Release stands out for being refreshingly different to all other tracks, with a simpler, purer purer set against a solo guitar.
Smoke + Mirrors seems to find the Las Vegas band firmly in the middle of the road, covering a variety of genres, not sure which direction they really want to head in so playing safe and covering all bases.
A press release states that a deluxe edition of Imagine Dragons’ new album will be released exclusively through Target (in the USA). Included will be four bonus tracks. For the band’s more hardcore fans, an “Art Box deluxe” version, will contain lithograph prints designed by artist Tim Cantor for every song on the album and an oversized album booklet in a collectible box.
This album will undoubtedly top the charts for many weeks and tracks will be heard throughout the Summer. Whether all 18 tracks should have been released as one album is debatable but fans will certainly be getting their monies worth. The variety of material will be sure to appeal to a wide fan base and will ensure that Imagine Dragons are not pigeonholed into one genre.
Imagine Dragons certainly lead the ‘alternative’ music scene and this album should secure their continued rise to worldwide success.
Written by: Lindsy Stott