Imagine Dragons is the type of band that makes you switch your Spotify activity settings to “private.”
Las Vegas’ own Imagine Dragons crossed from the alternative charts to top-40 with their 2012 debut, “Night Visions.” However, the group’s Nickelback-esque ability to bring guitar music to the top of the charts — often a rarity — doesn’t benefit rock ‘n’ roll because as “Smoke + Mirrors,” Imagine Dragon’s sophomore effort, proves, this brand of synth-plastered rock consists of little more than cliché lyrics and formulaic instrumentals.
But I’ll give the boys this: They experiment tirelessly throughout “Smoke + Mirrors” (though the success of that experimentation deserves little praise).
The title track, song three, sounds like Coldplay if Chris Martin grew up in a trailer park; lead singer Dan Reynolds grunts his way through life lesson after life lesson until the ending guitar solo.
Then there’s the fourth track, “I’m So Sorry.” Any sweetness the title might hint at disappears when multiple distorted string riffs usher in the first verse. Soon foot stomps and gruff backing vocals reign, and Imagine Dragon’s musical joke is complete.
“I’m So Sorry” isn’t a song dedicated to lovers in turmoil; it’s what listeners might expect to blare in an Arkansas strip club.
The Album Analyzer must confess he put “I’m So Sorry” on repeat the way bored teens binge watch “Sharknado.” Each listen uncovered another head-scratching lyric and more overindulgent guitar licks. After four listens, he concluded this: “I’m So Sorry” is a beautiful disaster.
Unfortunately, most of “Smoke + Mirrors” is neither quality nor hilariously horrendous enough to warrant a second chance.
“I Bet My Life” follows “I’m So Sorry” and makes Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers and Ed Sheeran seem edgy. “I know I took the path that you would never want from me / I know I let you down, didn’t I?” Reynolds sings at the beginning, and listeners respond with “yes.” Like much of the collection, multiple organic motifs collude but never accomplish more than hovering under Reynolds’ words.
And that’s a recurring issue here; Imagine Dragons craft concepts with potential. The group never guides these ideas to fruition, though.
Imagine Dragons don’t complement catchy beats with vivid lyrics either. “Smoke + Mirrors’” sixth song, “Polaroid,” stands out as its best chance to stick with listeners. Robust bass rolls in the background, chimes craft a catchy melody and drum kicks crash the floorboards in.
However, nothing else happens.
A big bridge or extended instrumental break might make “Polaroid” momentous. It fades out like it started — as does Imagine Dragons’ last opportunity to salvage “Smoke + Mirrors.”
The group’s latest includes a more distinct sound than “Night Vision.” But without potential chart-toppers like that LP’s “Radioactive,” “Demons” and “It’s Time,” this project fails on both fronts, unable to produce the uniqueness an eclectic audience appreciates, without hits to appeal to the mainstream.
Fans of Imagine Dragons’ early work can find familiar qualities in “Smoke + Mirrors,” but so will people who immediately switch the dial when “Radioactive’s” intro plays, which does little keep the band relevant in the “new age.”
Final Rating: Two out of Five Suns