The little indie band formed in Provo, Utah is indie no more. After making the move to Las Vegas, recording a few EPs and making some band personnel changes, Imagine Dragons signed to Interscope records in 2011 and began recording their album Night Visions with English Grammy winning producer, Alex da Kid.
The formula of fusing indie rock with hip-hop-inspired production proved to be a successful one, resulting in Imagine Dragons being crowned as the current kings of Alternative music. Today they release their sophomore album Smoke + Mirrors in hopes of continuing their reign.
It’s no secret that even though he has not been the subject of an “I’m a Mormon” video like The Killers front man Brandon Flowers, Dan Reynolds is indeed a Mormon. Knowing this definitely influenced the way I listened to this album. Much like listening to The Killers, where Flowers’ lyrics are littered with hints of his Mormon upbringing, I couldn’t help but listen for religious themes in this new Imagine Dragons album.
The lyrics in Smoke + Mirrors, unlike its in-your-face and sometimes obvious production, seem to be carefully crafted ambiguity. Reynolds seems to want to explore his thoughts and ideas without revealing too much.
One exception is the title track, in which Reynolds seems to be questioning his faith. He asks the “life taker:”
“All I believe, is it a dream that comes crashing down on me. All that I hope, is it just smoke and mirrors?”
What I find so interesting about this track is that he asks these questions softly over a dreamy, subdued track but then has flashes in which he screams lines like “Open up my mind!” and “I want to believe!”
This type of honest struggle and pleading make an otherwise unspectacular track engrossing. This is a theme, along with asking forgiveness, weaved throughout the entire album.
The low points on the album are “Polaroid” where Reynolds uses a sing-songy, nursery rhyme delivery over a laid back, boom-bap track, and “Trouble” which sounds like a Mumford and Sons tribute, but with messy and overdone production.
“Friction” is another weird track in which the production gets in its own way and sounds like a remix for DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down For What.” The end of the song comes to the rescue, though, with some guitar riffs that should have been present throughout.
Most of the highlights come as no surprise. The three lead singles, “I Bet My Life,” “Gold,” and “Shots” were chosen for a reason. All three display Imagine Dragons at their finest and showcase some additions to the repertoire like Reynolds’ beautiful falsetto and Alex da Kid finding his inner Kanye West, using some great samples in unique ways.
One of the surprises of the album is “I’m So Sorry,” a guitar-driven adrenaline rush. It sounds like a Black Keys/Muse lovechild and the result is a head nodding anthem, punctuated with some guitar shredding that ends way too soon.
Smoke + Mirrors is a solid follow up to Night Visions but falters at times when the production overwhelms. Where many bands allow the production to compliment and enhance their style and identity, here the band seems to be assisting what Alex da Kid dictates.
I identify with many of the themes present in Smoke + Mirrors and appreciate the honesty apparent in the album’s thirteen tracks. In the end, though, I feel much like the band becomes lost in the production, exercising of faith plays back seat to dwelling on doubts this time around. But I’m okay with that. I’m optimistic and hopeful that the band’s third outing will be woven with stories of triumph that come from choosing to believe against all odds.