Imagine Dragons deliver their new album to us and I’m disappointed by the results. Titled Evolve, it feels like one step forward, two steps back for the band. While there are songs I enjoy from the album, especially the singles that were released leading up to Evolve, the general vibe is underwhelming.
I’m under no illusions that the previous Imagine Dragons albums were conceptual masterpieces. But they felt stronger as a whole, even if they could be a bit bloated. Here, there’s too few songs that stand out and not enough to hold the rest of the album up.
Maybe it’s the 80s vibe that’s throughout the album (and cover), that never seems to do much but season the songs with synth. Maybe it’s an overuse of effects, warping Dan Reynolds’ vocals for little benefits. The self-doubt of the previous albums that created “Shots” and “Polaroid” is gone, replaced with a much healthier outlook on life and self. And I always find that harder to relate to.
“I Don’t Know Why” starts off the album, without the oomph of “Radioactive” or self-destructiveness of “Shots”. It’s a fine song, one that might have been better suited as a middle track but it fails as the curtain riser. I suppose it does introduce the eighties synths we’ll be hearing throughout, but it doesn’t really have a hook of its own.
“Whatever It Takes” would have worked much better as an opener. Reynolds feels more at home and at speed with this song. Lyrics like “Whip, whip, run me like a racehorse” are catchy and the chorus is the kind you want to sing loud to inspire others around you, even if the protest. The bridge is smooth, slowing Reynolds’ rapping down to more of a conversation. It’s a strong track and a standout.
I’m sure I don’t need to talk about “Believer” that much. The song has been playing for months, the Dolph Lundgren-starring music video racking up the views. This one feels like Imagine Dragons 101. Put this on right after “Radioactive” and they would fit perfectly. Its the most bombastic song on the album, for sure. While it’s not a new favorite for me, it feels right at home with the band.
“Walking the Wire” is a return to the 80s. The chorus is catchy and and reminds me of a song Michael Jackson never wrote. The echo and layers have come straight out of 1987. Unfortunately, the rest of the song is forgettable, leaving little impression. “Rise Up” fairs a little better, even if it feels like the non-identical twin of “Walking the Wire”.
Then there’s the Huey Lewis and the News inspired, “I’ll Make It Up To You”. From the opening notes, to the chord choices and lyrics of the chorus, this reminds me of “If This Is It”.. Reynolds even sounds like he’s doing an impression of Lewis. I’d be surprised if Imagine Dragons didn’t do this on purpose, because the imitation is spot on. Maybe that’s why I like the song, cheese and all.
And maybe that’s why I don’t love “Yesterday”. If the previous song is a spot on impression of the News, than this track is a bad take on Queen, from the layered shouts to the guitar solo, to the hopefully-not-intended Freddie Mercury inflections. And while I tend not to mind Imagine Dragons love for effects stacking on one another, there’s too much going on in this song. Others might disagree, but this is a track that’s most likely to be skipped in the future.
“Mouth OF The River” has a pretty unattractive guitar during the verses, but the chorus is fine. A bit U2, but fine. Actually, there’s U2 sprinkled all around this album, mainly in the chords progressions inside most choruses. Take from that what you will.
If I’ve seemed harsh, let me admit, “Thunder” has been playing non-stop on my work computer. There’s nothing complicated about this song, the lyrics are almost criminally simple. But the story of the song is sly and snarky and when that chorus comes in, it’s got me hooked. The drum’s “boom boom boom” thunder, the repetition of the one word finding a surprising rhythm, that high pitch voice, it all works. It’s short and it hasn’t left the loop inside my brain. And the music video is weird as heck.
“Start Over” is too much cheese, even for me. The chorus, again sounding like a reject from Genesis or Belinda Carlisle, isn’t anything special. But the rest feels like a chore. And, fair warning, “Dancing In The Dark, is not a cover of the Bruce Springsteen song. It’s also a weak ending for the album. Reynolds’ voice is auto tuned the whole track and nothing about feels inspired. It’s too much, especially over a fairly relaxed beat.
Over the past year, I’ve seen a lot of critics complain about Imagine Dragons, complaining about pointless layering and meaningless sounds. I’ve never understood that, as I really enjoy the band and their previous albums. And I still don’t agree with them. Even though I don’t love Evolve, the band has a unique sounds and can be a lot of fun. I find a lot of their songs reflective, exciting and just plain catchy. Evolve has less of that, but it’s not a total loss. As someone still using cds in his car, I doubt I’ll be picking this one over Smoke + Mirrors, but I would want some of Evolve on a playlist. The album seems like it came easy to the band, but it doesn’t make for compelling music.