As 2015 has gone so far, I think it’s fair to say the Imagine Dragons’ second album is one of the more hotly anticipated albums of the year. The dreaded sophomore slump is always on the mind of an artist with a wildly successful breakout, and very few bands had bigger exposure that Imagine Dragons’ had off the back of their hit Radioactive in 2012.
Smoke + Mirrors, might not pack as much of a punch as their first album but at least doesn’t leave us wondering why we liked them in the first place. Make no mistake, if you’re looking for a complete replica of Night Visions, you’re not going to find it. That’s not to say you’re listening to a completely new artist, but there are no parallels to Amsterdam, there are few moments of “Gosh, we’ve heard this before!”. The record opens with the band’s newest single Shots, where we’re very affirmed that the Eighties sound is back in vogue. This upbeat sunny track is more electronically heavy, full of catchy beats and a firm reminder that Imagine Dragons isn’t content just sitting around being another run of the mill East coast rock band.
The band stomps out heavy beats and anthem calls up until track eleven, Summer, where the band opts for a more airy guitar run as befits the topic. If this sounds boring to you, I’m afraid to say that you aren’t wrong. The band’s venture into sharper production helps to give the album a veneer of newness – the idea that the band are trying something different. This is often put to use imaginatively against their lyrics, and once again ‘Shot’ or ‘Polaroid’ sums this up. Second track ‘Gold’ boasts a heavy, almost sinister beat to it that underlines the bitter, wistful lyrics.
‘It Comes Back to You’ is a short reprieve in the first two thirds of the record, with the breathy vocals and like psychedelic chords reminiscent of a nineties smooth groove track. If you’re lucky enough to purchase deluxe version of the album, you’ll be offered a wider range of the Dragons’ repertoire, with acoustic track ‘Release’ and piano based song ‘Second Chances’ demonstrating a wider artistic scope than the standard edition of their album suggests. Given that the Las Vegas band are one of the front faces for popular alternative these days, it seems to suit that they’ve chosen to incorporate more electronica and heavy beats into their new album: both elements are making a heavy resurgence in the charts, and it’s one that doesn’t look like it’ll be going away anytime soon.
For those inclined to see Imagine Dragons go down that avenue, the band’s new chapter in Smoke + Mirrors will be an exciting and interesting one. The band has never shied away from putting on a show sonically, and that’s an element that has played right into their hands when it comes to their live tours. It seems their new chapter will be no different and much kudos that the band has tried fitting into the formula that’s worked so well for them via evolving their sound.
Much favoured single ‘I Bet My Life’ sums up this fusion of old and new via the cheery clap-happiness of ‘It’s Time’ – except now we have full on gospel vocals and thundering drums to back it up. Smoke + Mirror’s is just as fun an album as their first, and one that will no doubt still please many of the band’s existing fan base. But it’s a record that makes you want to listen to it more: one spin isn’t enough if you want to pick up every sound and tweak on each track. That’s a damn sight more than you can say about many albums (let alone sophomore albums) these days and a solid reason to give the album a try. Don’t listen to Smoke + Mirrors expecting to be blown out of the water, but do listen to it being utterly glad the band have returned.