Imag­ine Drag­ons’ new al­bum fi­nally made me a be­liever

The Signal - - Usa today - Maeve McDer­mott Colum­nist USA TO­DAY

It hap­pened slowly, Imag­ine Drag­ons’ tran­si­tion from “the an­noy­ing band in all the movie trail­ers” to “the slightly-less-an­noy­ing band whose song I won’t change on the ra­dio” to “the band whose al­bum I may lis­ten to, vol­un­tar­ily.”

The band’s jour­ney to be­com­ing one of the big­gest rock bands of the decade, though, seemed to hap­pen all at once. One day they were no­bod­ies; the next, their 2013 break­through sin­gle “Ra­dioac­tive” was ev­ery­where, a process that re­peated with “Be­liever,” their 2017 sin­gle that seem­ingly ap­peared in ev­ery other block­buster movie trailer that year. Their nu­mer­ous Grammy nom­i­na­tions may fall in the rock cat­e­gory, but Imag­ine Drag­ons are even less a rock band than their Cold­play and Ma­roon 5 Top 40-ra­dio brethren.

In­stead, their mu­sic takes the most emo­tive song­writ­ing trends of 2010s mu­sic, all those mo­ments in pop­u­lar folk and pop and EDM songs de­signed to make the lis­tener feel some­thing, and pack­ages them to­gether. It’s a Franken­steinian for­mula that, with its boot stomp­ing melodies and synth bloops over heavy beats and crash­ing cho­ruses, sounds like an ar­ti­fi­cial-in­tel­li­gence-gen­er­ated rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the mu­sic mil­len­ni­als are sup­posed to like.

And while this mil­len­nial fought against them, con­sid­er­ing Imag­ine Drag­ons the em­bod­i­ment of ev­ery­thing bor­ing about pop mu­sic now, some­thing changed, cul­mi­nat­ing in the band’s new re­lease, “Ori­gins.” Maybe it’s be­cause noth­ing on the al­bum is as te­dious as “Be­liever,” a song so painful that I ban­ished the phrase “first things first” from my per­sonal vo­cab­u­lary on prin­ci­ple. While vo­cal­ist Dan Reynolds is still bel­low­ing for dear life on ini­tial sin­gles “Nat­u­ral” and “Ma­chine,” the songs are less grat­ing than their pre­de­ces­sors, es­pe­cially the lat­ter track’s Foo Fighters sounda­like el­e­ments.

That’s one knock I used to have on the band: that their mu­sic sounded like an amal­ga­ma­tion of all of the most un­re­mark­able songs on Top 40 ra­dio. And yet, lis­ten­ing to “Ori­gins” and the var­i­ous ob­vi­ous sounda­likes to other pop­u­lar hits, I find my­self pre­fer­ring Imag­ine Drag­ons’ ver­sions to the ones they re­mind me of. Whether it’s that Imag­ine Drag­ons im­proved or that the rest of the mu­sic on pop ra­dio has all be­come in­dis­tin­guish­able, at some point, dis­lik­ing the band on prin­ci­ple be­came harder to jus­tify.

“Ori­gins” is still very much an Imag­ine Drag­ons al­bum, which means its pre­dom­i­nant char­ac­ter­is­tics are its er­satz pro­duc­tion, song­writ­ing that is just de­cent enough not to be dis­tract­ingly bad, and Reynolds’ folksy croons that turn into throat-shred­ding wails when the tracks’ cho­ruses roll around. The tropes are still there, of course, But while “Ori­gins” does very few things dif­fer­ently from their last al­bum, there were still mo­ments that caught me by sur­prise, like the deliri­ously-’80s vibes of “Zero” or the twin­kling power bal­lad “Cool Out.” And while its high­lights aren’t so fre­quent to el­e­vate “Ori­gins” to best-al­bums-of-2018 sta­tus, the al­bum is lis­ten­able enough to de­light fans and prompt some soul-search­ing from haters like me. And while I’m not quite con­verted into a Fire­breather – which, yes, is a real thing Imag­ine Drag­ons su­per­fans call them­selves – the band’s new al­bum, to para­phrase a cer­tain hit song that I’m still never go­ing to like, has made me a be­liever.

ETHAN MILLER/GETTY IMAGES

Gui­tarist Wayne Ser­mon of Imag­ine Drag­ons per­forms at The Chelsea at The Cos­mopoli­tan of Las Ve­gas on Wed­nes­day.

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