Music review: Smoke + Mirrors is exactly that



Cover art of the new album from Imagine Dragons.

By Samantha Burton

Smoke + Mirrors, the latest album from Las Vegas natives Imagine Dragons, was released Feb. 17 and, though fairly enjoyable, fails to make its city of origin proud.

The album at first stays true to the Dragons’ signature sound, an intriguing mix of soft rock and heroic surges with recurrent undercurrents of techno and some intense catharsis. Said catharsis is where they go wrong in their sophomore album; it seems a bit too angsty. They kept their massive percussion and interesting choruses, but infused less balladic singing and more rageful platitudes masquerading as deep worldly insights. The album jumps around too much – it goes past sound variance into sound incongruence, and overall has an incoherent feel.

Upon initial listening, the highlight of the album is “I Bet My Life,” the previously-released single — always a disappointment when you’ve already heard the best. However, a second listen points out the true stars of the album, “It Comes Back to You” and “Shots,” both of which are less poseur-angsty and more genuinely head-bobbing songs, reminiscent of the golden days of U2.

Even these, though, are faulted songs, as “Shots” opens the album and seems to try to subtly introduce the rage-filled feeling that carries the rest of the album. “It Comes Back to You” introduces a weird synth-techno rift at the end that sounds like it belongs in a video game, not an indie-pop song.

“Polaroid” is a tempting favorite, because it has an interesting melody that is positively worthy of some rhythmic shoulder dancing, returning to the tradition of the beginning roots of Imagine Dragons. However, the lyrics are grandiosely self-deprecating, past the point of relatable and moving into slightly pitiable territory. A prediction: the lyrics are headed toward their destiny as Instagram captions, because everyone will find it so deep that “love is a polaroid.” It is likely the future will find listeners singing along to this on the radio in the future, and hating themselves for it.

My first impression of almost every song was “this is weird,” and then, as the melody and lyrics progress, “this is interesting.”. But at some point I would always return to the stance of mild confusion and distaste.

In the end, the album is just reminiscent enough of its predecessor Night Visions – so much so that listeners can almost match up the songs: “I Bet My Life” is the sophomore “It’s Time.” The deep and slightly grating sound of “Dream” can be matched to “Radioactive.” “Trouble” is the grown-up version of “Demons”– in that it makes listeners want to go back to the premier album, not this new one.

Smoke + Mirrors seems to have both mirrored its older sibling and brought smoke – not fire – to the Dragons’ sound in an unwelcome smog of clouded emotions and hazy banalities.