Imagine Dragons are not ones for subtlety.
The Las Vegas rockers have made their name on larger-than-life anthems like "Radioactive" and "Demons" that boil down complex emotions and ideas to simple (sometimes, too simple) choruses and catchphrases.
On "Smoke and Mirrors" (Interscope), they do it again, sounding even bigger and reasoning even simpler than before.
"I'm sorry for everything, oh everything I've done," Dan Reynolds sings to open the album on "Shots," a truly odd bit of misdirection. Over a bouncy, synth-pop backdrop, Reynolds declares, "From the second that I was born it seems I had a loaded gun and then I shot, shot, shot a hole through everything I loved."
That disconnect is obviously what the band was going for, but either they were planning to build a happy-sounding psychopath or they didn't realize how the two pieces would fit together. Either way, it doesn't feel right.
The misdirection works much better on "Gold," where they turn the line "Everything you touch turns to gold" into something menacing, over a clattering hip-hop beat. It also works on the peppy "Polaroid," where Reynolds swaggers his way through the sad-sack verses before hitting on a chorus of "Love is a Polaroid, better in pictures, never can fill the void."
It's clear that success hasn't spoiled Imagine Dragons, or, more accurately, lightened their mood. "Hopeless Opus" is plenty of proof, though sometimes glimmers of hope slip through, especially in the Mumford & Sons-ish "I Bet My Life."
In some ways, "Smoke and Mirrors" is an album written to be played live -- the dynamic band's true wheelhouse -- crafted for maximum entertainment value. The problem is that in making every gesture seem arena-sized, much of the album feels distant and impersonal, like it's about the show and not the emotions. "Smoke and Mirrors" needs to get a bit more real.
THE GRADE B-