Imagine Dragons Origins
noted for their work with avant-garde mavericks including Sam Smith, Cheryl Tweedy, Selina Gomez and fearsome electro-acoustic auteur Ellie Goulding. Notice is thus served that talk of music of a thrilling newness might amount to gilding the lily a bit.
And so it proves. The song Digital unexpectedly makes use of a drum’n’bass breakbeat, but for the most part, Origins’ contents arrive thickly spread with chart cliches: reverb-heavy xx-inspired guitars, the kind of high-pitched vocal echoes found on Justin Bieber’s Sorry, a bit of thumpy Mumford-ish folk on West Coast, a track that deals in taut 80s-movie-soundtrack pop-rock. The songs are well-crafted, but the band’s work frequently sounds weirdly interchangeable with other artists who occupy the Top 40. You can imagine Cool Out being performed by DNCE or Maroon 5, or Stuck being given a gruff-voiced makeover by George Ezra.
What individual character it has comes from an occasional desire to graft on well-worn stadium rock tropes: the pained intensity of Reynolds’ vocals, the rhythm of Machine that mimics the thumpthump-crash of Queen’s We Will Rock You, the yearning, U2-ish breakdown that appears midway through Zero. The lyrics deal in windy generalities – “Why can’t you just be my brother? Why do we have to kill one another?” – or stuff that fancies itself as profound but doesn’t make any sense: “I want a new world without the order / I want to resurrect and live a little shorter.”
Occasionally, the lyrics delve into what Bullet in a Gun – a melding of electronic rhythm track and Kings of Leon impersonation – refers to as “the Devil’s deal” of fame, a curious topic for a band who appear to have ascended to the upper echelons of commercial success with the minimum of angst. “To make a name, you pay the price,” cries Reynolds, sounding positively wracked. “How many artists fear the light? Feel the pain?” He then starts shouting “SELL OUT! SELL OUT!”, something that is hard to listen to without thinking: keep your hair on, mate, you weren’t exactly Napalm Death to start off with.
Perhaps it all hints at a gulf between how Imagine Dragons see themselves (fearless sonic explorers and sociopolitical philosophers straining at the very confines of commerciality) and what they are: a band who’ve hit on a winning formula, where mainstream pop music is larded with just enough references to classic rock to lure in not just lovers of the Top 40, but the kind of people who normally sniff at mainstream pop. If they really are troubled by their success or how they’re perceived, their dark night of the soul looks set to continue apace: cliches, cod profundities and all, Origins sounds like another vast hit.
The lyrics deal in windy generalities such as: ‘Do we have to kill one another?’
Pop cliches and cod profundities … Imagine Dragons