Imagine Dragons have it all figured out. As of writing, they are the 11th most popular act on Spotify. 2017’s ‘Evolve’ went platinum in the US after just four months. It eventually charted as the second-highest album in that year’s Top Rock Albums list by Billboard, second only to Metallica. Vulture labelled the group “arguably the biggest rock band in the world”.
With their will-it-into-existence identity as a rock band secured, Imagine Dragons have established a trademark anthemic chorus-orientated sound, all the while remaining largely unidentifiable. They are an unassuming bunch; a quick Google will present faces that scream: “So that’s why none of them are on the album artworks”. Yet it is these faces that have sold over five-and-a-half million records in the US alone.
‘Evolve’ was a landmark album for the Las Vegas troupe, spawning some of Imagine Dragons’ most popular cuts. ‘Believer’ has been synced to death as it has featured on more ads than that GoCompare opera singer. Singer and only permanent fixture in the band Dan Reynolds describes ‘Origins’ as a “sister album” to ‘Evolve’. Reynolds made his intentions clear: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
‘Origins’, their fourth record, is the squeezing of the last creative juices out of Imagine Dragons’ lime. It is forty minutes of unlikable, semi-conscious songs that are as #deep as a Taylor Swift Instagram post telling you to vote. A large majority of the songs are written around Dan Reynolds’ recent separation and even-more-recent partnership with his wife. Remarkably despite this, the songs lack any sense of emotion.
Consistently contrived, Reynolds dominates the album bellowing empty platitudes with the sincerity of a Heartfelt Message Generator. On the erratic ‘Boomerang’, not even the warmth of the chorus can hide mystifying lyrics like: “I’m ready to throw, You’re my boomerang” – when not ten seconds earlier, he was confessing how, “I’m bad at letting you go”. Either his whole stance on a relationship flipped in seconds, or it is a lazy metaphor. To eradicate doubt, Reynolds recites the word “boomerang” twenty-five times in the outro. Powerful imagery.
Providing how he is the USP of Imagine Dragons, you would think Dan Reynolds would be easier to like yet on songs like ‘Cool Out’, his persona is somewhat banal. Applying the same structure that the group have implemented throughout their career, the quiet-loud formula is as awkward here as it is needless, especially on a ballad. The chorus fails to freshen the stench that Coldplay would pass on releasing this song as a B-side. With a lyric like, “So cool out, stay high, stay fresh, play nice”, it is tiring picturing Reynolds writing this about his wife when they agreed to split.
Lead single ‘Natural’, another one-worded, one-dimensional stadium-seeking cut, is the album’s attempt at recapturing ‘Believer’. It is a true Imagine Dragons song – in that radios have seemingly played slightly altered versions of the same song for years. The chorus, as with all Dragons tracks, is the focal point, the nucleus. Its verses carry a constant, prominent rhythm which leads to a pre-chorus that stands as one of the album’s best examples of songwriting. The pre-chorus does the trick, leading the listener down a path of unease, alluding to danger at the next turn. Reynolds shifts gears in the final line, releasing all restraint he had on previous lines. He prepares us for a quick-launch; instead we get a false start. The instrumental barely progresses. It is not just bland, it is frustratingly uninteresting.
If they cannot replicate their own formula without sounding undetermined, their attempt at mimicking contemporaries is borderline undigestable. ‘Only’ will have you asking two questions: why would you be inspired by The Chainsmokers’ “Something Just Like This”?, and how can you be inspired by The Chainsmokers’ “Something Just Like This”? ‘West Coast’ is a gross attempt at making financial gain off of the death of Avicii. It takes all the ingredients for a smash Avicii hit then saps the euphoric joy and funnels it into soulless country-pop.
Imagine Dragons shoddily attempt to mask their formulas on ‘Origins’. Choruses – the bread and butter of the band – use repetition carelessly. ‘West Coast’ tosses “hey”‘s around like a speed-dating session while ‘Love’ confusingly asks “Where did we all go wrong?” before answering it with the song’s title twelve times.
‘Digital’ is the band shooting themselves in the foot. Chords fit for YouTube covers are quickly discarded for an instrumental The Prodigy would cringe at. It does make a pleasant change from the all-too-familiar songs preceding it, but then the chorus enters and your finger lingers towards the “Next” button. They open with “You know how we do”, and it somehow gets worse. In the chorus, Reynolds proclaims: “We don’t want to change, we just wanna change everything” – bit rich for a song that uses the same verse twice before chanting: “And they been sayin’, they been sayin’ the same thing” eight times on the bridge.
It is either an extremely nuanced form of meta-analysis, or it is weak songwriting. At least with the Prodigy, for all their common-denominator ventures, they knew when to shut up and let the music do the talking.
A brief moment of full realisation arrives in the shape of ‘Machine’. A song about how we the public should stick it to The Man from a band signed to a label owned by Universal Music Group may be eye-rolling, but with its swanky guitar riff and, for once, fitting vocal from Reynolds, it is a rare glimpse into a side of Imagine Dragons that does not sound watered down to the point of being obsolete. Here, Reynolds carries himself like a capitalist Eddie Vedder over an instrumental that hints at an essence of personality.
Not four songs later and Imagine Dragons find themselves embodying their current role into one song. ‘Zero’, or to give it its full name ‘Zero – From the Original Motion Picture “Ralph Breaks The Internet”’, is 210 seconds of full-screen condescending irony. Reynolds sings about “what it’s like to always feel, feel like I’m empty and there’s nothing really real, real” over a cheery beat and a plethora of hand claps. While the song has a whiff of charisma, it is laughable attempting to relate to a song co-written for a Walt Disney Pictures film by a man with a reported net worth of $12.5 million. It is the musical equivalent of a Jerry Seinfeld stand-up routine about having to queue at Subway. In an attempt to be relatable, it forgets to be realistic. But please, tell us “what it’s like to be a zero, zero.”
‘Origins’ is a barely-serviceable rock album, a collection of songs with the primary purpose of playlisting. It is all too evident that Reynolds and Co. spent little time concerning the structure. As the closer ‘Love’ comes to an unsatisfying end, you will be left wondering if that was it. It obviously isn’t, as the standard edition isn’t available on streaming services. The bonus tracks aren’t listed as such; it is as if the songs after ‘Love’ are just as passable as the ones before.
This is barely an album: there is no flow and the themes are tossed around like a Pinterest board. After the first listen of ‘Origins’, one song sprung to mind: Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’. They are perfectly inoffensive songs. Embracing this album requires little effort. This is background music that your finger can blindly navigate towards the “Add To Playlist” button to. But much like Ed’s hit, Imagine Dragons go as far as acknowledging the current trends, but fail to contribute to it.
‘Origins’ by Imagine Dragons is out now via Kidinacorner, Polydor Records and Interscope Records