Imagine Dragons, Evolve | Album Review
Nevada, alternative rock collective Imagine Dragons returns with its third studio album, ‘Evolve.’ The question is, did they indeed evolve?
Imagine Dragons are “kind of a big deal.” In 2012, they dropped a well-received debut album, Night Visions, featuring the Grammy-winning, megahit, “Radioactive.” Their 2015 follow-up, Smoke + Mirrors, lacked a megahit, but still performed well commercially. Since Smoke, they’ve appeared on hit soundtrack single, “Sucker for Pain” (Suicide Squad). Now, they’re back with their third studio album, Evolve. The results are mixed.
“I Don’t Know Why”
“I Don’t Know Why” commences Evolve energetically. That said, what’s new for Imagine Dragons? Their songs are rarely devoid of enthusiasm, not to mention shimmering production work. “I Don’t Know Why” is more pop-oriented than some of the band’s previous work. That’s not a crowning achievement per se, but “I Don’t Know Why” is a respectable opener.
The third single from Evolve, “Whatever It Takes,” follows. On the verses, Reynolds approaches the vocals rhythmically, in pop-rap fashion. It works, but doesn’t provide the most tuneful melody. Regardless, Imagine Dragons flexes on the chorus:
“Whatever it takes / ‘Cause I love the adrenaline in my veins / I do whatever it takes / ‘Cause I love how it feels when I break the chains…”
Interestingly, the bridge section is rich in vocabulary. Of course, the words all rhyme, compromising the integrity of the vocabulary a smidge. All though a bit different from other songs by the band, “Whatever It Takes” still features the signature cues associated with the Nevada collective.
The script for promo single “Believer” plays true to the identity established by the band. The drums are gargantuan, packing a mean punch. Reynolds continues to deliver overt vocals, with a bite. He also employs a mean falsetto which is key here, particularly during the chorus. Rhythmically, the melody of the pre-chorus on “Believer” is quick-paced, with a dash of hip-hop sensibility. The chorus – the crème de la crème –is anthemic, with a strong urban influence. All in all, it’s tough NOT to be a believer in “Believer.”
“Walking the Wire” isn’t fundamentally different compared to past and present work by Imagine Dragons, but the band approaches it slightly tenderer. The main reason is the subject matter – love. Reynolds and company explore the turbulence – the push and pull of the four-letter word. Even with more care and restraint exhibited on the verse, the refrain remains as grandiose as ever.
“We’re walking the wire, love / We’re walking the wire, love / We’re gonna be higher, up / We’re walking the wire, wire, wire.”
All in all, it’s sound, not game changing stuff.
“Rise Up” finds Imagine Dragons offering empowerment – it wouldn’t be the first time. Most of the record is predictable, but the bridge comes out of left field. It’s not the lyrics, but the sound and the music. It’s arguable how successful the change of pace is, but give the band credit for going against the grain in that instant.
“I’ll Make It Up to You” takes the evolution further than most records. Similar to “Walking the Wire,” though more pronounced, Reynolds and company are cooler on the verses. Given the fact that this band is associated with their robustness, hearing more poised, chill vibes is refreshing. Furthermore, the production has a different sound, possessing its fair share of 80s influence. Reliably, the chorus is on-point.
After a high-flying moment, Imagine Dragons come back to earth on “Yesterday.” “Yesterday” is actually an intriguing song – in concept. Listening to it, one gauges what the band was trying to do. Honestly, this record shows much more evolution than most. But, the execution is questionable. “Close, but no cigar.” “Mouth of the River” gives Evolve a ‘no harm, no foul’ moment. It’s enjoyable and well-produced, but not necessarily memorable or transcendent. The falsetto is #winning, not to mention – wait for it – the chorus!
“Thunder” is another respectable addition to the arsenal of Imagine Dragons. Throughout its course, Reynolds looks back on his early life. One of the best examples of this occurs on the second verse, in which he devises a plan to reach superstardom.
“Kids were laughing in my classes / While I was scheming for the masses / Who do you think you are / Dreaming ‘bout being a big star? / You say you’re basic, you say you’re easy / You’re always riding in the back seat / Now I’m smiling from the stage / While you were clapping in the nose bleeds.”
Sigh, we must remember that come-up songs aren’t just for rappers after all. Alternative rock/pop stars can experience the thunder as well.
Keeping in step with evolution, “Start Over” marks another moment of ambitiousness by the band. It’s a bit odd, but again, Imagine Dragons deserve some respect for trying to get out of their comfort zone. Does it work? Like the album as a whole, it’s mixed. The percussion is epic though! “Dancing in the Dark” concludes in the same spirit. Rather than being an overt, hard-hitter like “Start Over,” “Dancing in the Dark” is a more restrained ballad with a nice palette of sounds utilized. There are plenty of vocal effects – it’s a gimmicky performance. Still, the core of where Imagine Dragons desire to take their music is easily perceptible.
All in all, Imagine Dragons deliver a respectable album with Evolve. The evolution (and execution) is imperfect, but the band have some good ideas. The question is, does anything from Evolve trump “Radioactive.” No. Their work shouldn’t be compared to that seminal hit or its parent record throughout the course of the career, but it is indeed hard to move past its decadence.
Gems: “I Don’t Know Why,” “Believer,” “I’ll Make It Up to You” & “Thunder”