February 8, 2023
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Life & Culture

Review: ‘Smoke + Mirrors’ reflects band’s lack of cohesion

"Smoke + Mirrors"

Imagine Dragons

Las Vegas–based rock band Imagine Dragons’ second album, “Smoke + Mirrors,” released Feb. 17, isn’t a large departure from the band’s debut album, “Night Visions.” The group has mastered a formula of rock music that feels just alternative enough to appeal to the hipster masses while maintaining a level of predictability perfect for pop radio. “Smoke + Mirrors” is an album made up of hit-or-miss songs with catchy melodies and lyrics. While this works well for the band’s marketability, it erases any chance of cohesiveness from the album.

The album in general is full of tried and tired pop melodies, and though it’s worked for the band in the past, it leaves something to be desired in the way of progress. “Night Visions,” was filled with positive rock anthems, and “Smoke + Mirrors” follows suit with the lead single, “I Bet My Life.” However, the album falls short, focusing on a much darker theme throughout and taking stylistic tips from a mix of bands. One song sounds like it would fit right in with a Coldplay album, while another would be at home on a Mumford and Sons record. It creates a strange compilation of random-sounding songs. The only connecting thread for many of the tracks is the lyrical repetition of how sorry the band is. As many times as they apologize, it’s still not clear what they are sorry about.

The group looks outside of its usual arena-rock box in a couple songs, and those turn out to be the best on the album. “Polaroid,” with its simple and deliberate beat, lays a solid foundation for front-man Dan Reynolds’ lyrics without all of the theatrics that cloud the rest of the album. The second single off the album, “Gold,” is the complete opposite, with synthesized sounds galore. The sound effects help to produce a hip-hop–like sound, and Reynolds’ metaphorical lyrics wink at the pitfalls of success. The band reminds listeners in “I’m So Sorry” why it’s classified as a rock band. With powerful guitar and vocals reminiscent of garage-rock band The Black Keys, Imagine Dragons produces a song that has enough energy to overpower the dreary shadow cast by many of the other songs.

While “Smoke + Mirrors” isn’t anything special as a whole, there are a couple gems, and a few songs that will no doubt be heard on the radio for the next year or two.