All bets are off. The second album from Las Vegas rock quartet, Imagine Dragons, is a sleeper with epic aspirations.
Smoke + Mirrors is a long player (21 tracks) with some serious sounds that blend atmosphere and inspiration with more than a few duds. Most of those happen early on, though.
Tracks like Gold dissipate the focus of ethereal songs like Shots – mini operas captured in flashes of shining glory. Gold is a self-important piece that will sound dated soon – a random collage of sounds and ideas tacked on to an uninspired centre. They’re representative of the yin and yang of the first half of the album.
The title track is digital and dreamy, and grabs a few ‘80s vocal hooks for good measure. Unfortunately the band’s habit of dropping in and out of song sounds gimmicky and contrived. This part of the album sounds ambitious but forced with too many songs going down the same dynamic road. An impression of showing off creeps in and creates a clichéd sense of unease that loses any impact that was intended.
Trouble and Summer are standout gems. The former is a bold future-folk tune that rips by at just over three minutes and the latter is a hook-laden wonder with loads of mystery and atmosphere. Other quality songs are I Bet My Life, It Comes Back to You and Dream. They bulldoze their way through the filler of the first half of Smoke + Mirrors.
Late into the album on the 13th track, The Fall, the Dragons get a second wind for an impressive victory lap of songs that leaves the earlier section in the dust.
The last song cycle is performance oriented and mood driven. They kiss the sky on Thief and Release, generating bursts of light where they sound possessed.
They get there in the end and for some the journey is better than the destination. Some material could have been edited to create a coherent and strong recording. The Dragons were bent on creating an epic album and could have arrived there in half the time.
– Dean Gordon-Smith’s Street Sounds appears in The Morning Star every Friday.