Imagine Dragons released their third album, Evolve, on June 23rd. This album follows their breakout album Night Visions and extreme indie rock album, Smoke + Mirrors. Their sophomore was an epic one. Personally, I listened to the album for months, enhancing my commute and making extra laps around the neighborhood to finish a song well worth it. Perhaps I overhyped their new album in my mind, became over excited when the release of "Believers" insinuated a sound similar to Smoke + Mirrors. It topped the Billboard “Hot Rock Songs” chart for weeks and connected with countless listeners. “Believer” was written about lead singer, Dan Reynolds’s, depression struggles and lended a soundboard to many music lovers. I’m sure the inspiring music video only helped the single’s success.
Imagine Dragons album is, overall, focused on new life outside of the struggles of mental health.
Reynolds described the album cover as “...coming out of a place of darkness and arriving at a place of color, almost being healed and rejuvenated.” With such blatant focus on a mental health struggle, the album becomes hard to critique. How can you objectively look at an album that is so personal to the artist's health struggle?
What is art if not an expression open to interpretation, and therefore respectful critique?
Art literally exists so as to invoke emotion in the viewer and so long as we can be respectful with those emotions and their resulting opinions, they are justified. And with the blatant change in style Imagine Dragons embraced with Evolve, I believe my opinions on these tracks to be justified.
Within the context of their two previous albums, Evolve sounds like a lot...less. This is because they stripped back their sound as a band. “We wanted to be selective about each noise. In the past, all of our sonic textures have been almost a wall of noise and music. [But] we’ve found through this process that you can be just as emotional and just as grand using maybe four instruments as opposed to us using 50,” said Reynolds in an interview with EW. This approach allows more critique of the music, as with such purposeful and minimal sound selection, the band leaves themselves open to a more critical ear as every musical decision can now be heard.
This is where my problem with the album lies. Although I did not love every song on Smoke + Mirrors (looking at you “Friction”), I still recognized how each song fit within the album and, overall, held a high opinion of the artistic value to the album despite some differences in taste. With Evolve, the lesser sound allows for differences of taste to make or break the album for a listener. Whereas songs like Smoke + Mirrors' “I Bet My Life” were layered with sound and stimulation, there is now underwhelming tracks. “Mouth of the River” leaves me disappointed, the epic nature of an Imagine Dragons’s song missing. One of the few songs that is obviously more stripped back than previous singles but still works is “Thunder.” This song remains appealing due to the purposeful and impactful location of the drum beats in the chorus. You can’t help but punch a fist to the beat or bang a hand onto the nearest surface to the two beats. The a cappella chorus also aids the song overall, along with the altered vocals in the background. This single showcases the more purposeful instrumental choices of the band without losing that extra something.
Imagine Dragons did suffer based on this decision.
Then, you listen to songs like “Rise up” and wince. The lesser band elements show here, and not in a good way. The almost screaming vocals no longer match the sounds of the instruments, creating a mix of genres that is not blending. Surprisingly, “Yesterday” is still a solid track. Despite the obvious inspiration from Irish drinking songs, this song’s blend of genres mixes into a delicious smoothie. I believe this is due to less instruments being indicative of an Irish drinking song, as well as a lack of screaming lyrics. The only harshly sung lyric “No tomorrow without a yesterday” during the chorus. This enters into a brief silent moment, giving the singularly stressed word the weight it needs for the impact of such a masterful lyric.
Overall, Evolve is not a loss. There are redeeming qualities to this junior addition to Imagine Dragons’s discography. However, it did disappoint me as a huge fan of Smoke + Mirrors. You can listen to their new album on Spotify or purchase it on iTunes.