Imagine Dragons Debut Album A Little Less Indie, A Little More Pop
4 out of 10
When you hear the name Imagine Dragons, and then see the mythical-looking cover for their new album “Night Visions” — which shows a boy standing alone on tall pedestals under an overcast sky — you may assume it was music inspired by some science-fiction trilogy, or something like an aural interpretation of Skyrim, with lots of dramatic cymbal rolls and cheesy orchestral work. One may assume it was — and I mean no offense by this, as I probably qualify for club membership — music made by nerds for nerds.
But then an album like that would probably never hit No. 1 on the iTunes charts and No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart. Imagine Dragons is an alternative rock band based out of Las Vegas, and “Night Visions,” released on Sept. 4, is their first studio-length album. Their music is poppy, and polished, with songs that were clearly written with the radio in mind. It’s pretty hard to believe that these guys really spent “a year and a half covering Led Zeppelin in low-rent casinos,” as Billboard.com reports; all traces of Zeppelin’s influence must have been checked at the door when they signed to Interscope Records.
The album’s first song, “Radioactive,” starts with guitar and what may be a bit of wordless moaning by Coldplay’s Chris Martin, but then quickly drops into a static-y dubsteb wob and lyrics about inhaling chemicals. “Welcome to the new age,” he sings, from “a prison bus,” during a time that he also refers to as “the apocalypse.” Regarding the music, trying to successfully pull dubstep out of the clubs and into a more mainstream application is tricky, but without the muddy glob of some of the genre’s dirtier bass-wobs, this track’s sampled sound feels artificial.
They don’t pull this stunt on any of the other tracks, though, and the album is the better for it. On songs like “Amsterdam,” there is actually some pretty nice guitar work; of course, it sounds an awful lot like the music of most other arena-rock bands (think U2 and Coldplay), but at least it’s pleasant. At least in the music, it’s easy to understand what they’re going for, which is more than can be said for a lot of the lyrics. On that same song, “Amsterdam,” vocalist Dan Reynolds sings, “I’ll take the west train, just by the side of Amsterdam / Just by my left brain, just by the side of the Tin Man.” The Tin Man didn’t have a heart, but is that supposed to mean he was left-brained as well? Or, is Reynolds saying he actually has two brains, and he’s naming the brain on the left The Tin Man? Or, is this line completely meaningless?
For most of the album, the band (or whoever wrote these lyrics) keeps rhyme at priority one, generally disregarding any damage done to clarity or lyrical content. There is one clear motif running throughout the album’s lyrics, however. On “Radioactive,” the first lines are, “I’m waking up to ash and dust / I wipe my brow and sweat my rust.” On the next song, “Tiptoe,” the first lines are, “In the morning light, let my roots take flight / Watch me from above, like a vicious dove.” On the song “Underdog”: “Early morning take me over / Father, father, father, take me to the top / Early morning, wake me up.” On “Bleeding Out”: “When the day has come, but I’ve lost my way around / And the seasons stop, and hide beneath the ground.” On “Every Night”: “I’m the colorless sunrise that’s never good enough.” On “Nothing Left to Say”: “Who knows how long I’ve been awake now?”
For an album called “Night Visions,” there sure are a lot of morning visions and lyrics about waking up. But then on “It’s Time,” Reynolds concedes that he doesn’t ever want to leave his town because, “after all, the city never sleeps at night.” Obviously, someone’s circadian rhythm is a little offbeat; regardless, “It’s Time” is a good song — easily the best on the album. “On Top of the World” comes in as a close second. Both are grassroots-inspirational, making the most of stomps, snaps and handclaps, and both feel a little bit out of place in this context.
There isn’t much to say for the rest of the album. “Every Night” is a prime example of what happens to musicians on major labels, and the lyrics to “Demons” were probably taken from Affliction shirts. There is definitely some chaff here; “It’s Time” is worth your time, but other than that, this is only a little better than your average pop album. For a couple of shiny nuggets sitting on a mountain of clumsy songwriting, the album gets a 4 out of 10.