Review: Smoke + Mirrors (Deluxe Edition) - Imagine Dragons
A track by track guide
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‘Smoke and Mirrors’ is a tremendous album. It leaps between genres with nonchalant glee, and has the same addictive melancholy as The Black Keys’ ‘Turn Blue’. To fully appreciate Imagine Dragons’ latest effort, here’s a handy track by track guide:
Shots - An impactful opening if ever there was one. With twinkling guitars and vocals that are icily perfect, yet sung with barely contained excitement, we’re dragged head first into an expertly crafted pop song. The chorus is begging to be sung at concerts by hordes of excitable fans, as lead singer Dan Reynolds laments that ‘from the second I was born it seemed I had a loaded gun’ (this particular tortured soul had been messing things as soon as he left the womb). It’s funky and slightly retro, and gets better and better as it goes along, with some staggering falsetto in the bridge (he must have been wearing very tight trousers!)
Gold - Now the band have properly got their groove on, head bobbing becomes hard to resist. It’s a loose interpretation of the Midas legend, with the chorus being a slightly camp ‘mmm GOLD!’ We’re swept up by the stomping bass rhythm, appreciated all the more when it’s momentarily withheld from us, only to come back with a vengeance. Reynolds’ visceral cry of ‘I feel…NOTHING’ will give you goosebumps.
Smoke and Mirrors - The title track is an innovative ballad with one of the most memorable melodies on the album. Buoyed by gliding synths, Reynolds asks ‘all that I hold, is it just smoke and mirrors?’ The answer, one assumes, is ‘yes’, but Reynolds wails ‘I wanna believeee!’ The chorus is an unforgettable blend of smooth falsetto and barely contained rage.
I’m So Sorry - Probably my favourite song of the record. After a fair bit of soul searching, tongues can be placed firmly in cheeks for this noisy romp. The guitars are deliciously grungy and the vocals sound like Hozier on steroids. The only downside is a mawkishly sentimental piano interlude, but silliness is soon restored with some ‘manly’ ‘huhs’.
I Bet My Life - After a sizeable genre hop we’re left with something like country with a bit of gospel thrown in for good measure. The verses sounds like a Chris-Martin-esque confessional (but mercifully more upbeat), giving way to one of the biggest choruses so far. Plus the backing singers really go for it.
Polaroid - One of the weaker songs on the album, ‘Polaroid’ is cursed by annoying repetitiveness and some seriously odd lyrics. It sounds a bit like something Scouts would sing around the campfire. The self-pity becomes a bit too much with lyrics like ‘I’m a reckless mistake’ and ‘I’m a first class let down’. Plus the metaphors don’t really work: no girl is going to be flattered by being told she’s ‘like the opera/ always on time and in tune.’ And love isn’t a Polaroid.
Friction - In terms of genre, this track is very odd. The Eastern scales and vocal delivery betray an EDM influence, yet by the end we’re closer to rock. Although the vocals are admirably tight, the angular melodies are not as easy to love as the rest of the album.
It Comes Back to You - A return to form after a couple of weak tracks. The verses show Reynolds at his most miserable (e.g. ‘all the things that I could be/ I think I learned in therapy’). But the chorus embodies an Elbow-like sense of optimism and universality: ‘all the things that you have lost will find their way to you’. The ‘ooo’ing is also fabulous.
Dream - Another ballad with a difference. Reynold begins by crooning over simple piano chords, but soon enough he’s yelling at the top of his lungs in a massive chorus. The whole thing smells of teenage angst, and the sentiments are very similar to the title track. The pulling back from the bluster when he decides to ‘dream’ that his life isn’t ‘a mess’ is a little gimmicky, but easily forgivable.
Trouble - Definitely one of the most uplifting songs on the album. It’s essentially another country song, but one of epic proportions, there’s even some swelling brass at one point. The repeated mantra of ‘I want no trouble’ is sung with affirmative force.
Summer - This one’s immensely dreamy, with a pervading sense of mystery. There’s jangly guitars and hand clapping, but also a haunting synth part and the aching beauty of the chorus’s climbing falsetto melody. Reynolds gives us some more life advice: ‘fall in line with what you’re meant to be’. He is helpful.
Hopeless Opus - It turns out that ‘hopeless opus’ does actually sound surprisingly good when sung. Aside from this, we’re treated to another very catchy chorus and a fabulous guitar solo.
The Fall - Using the tired metaphor of autumn as decline (everything is continuously getting worse in the world of Imagine Dragons), this is a suitable closer for the album. The opening is filled with dancing strings and expresses a sense of childish wonder. Possibly the chorus is a little bit sickly sweet, but the highlight is the ecstatic repetition of ‘you were the one that helped me sing’ in the outro, becoming more and more urgent until the end.
And if you’re willing to shell out for the deluxe edition you get…
Thief - Quite conventional by the standard of the rest of the album, but worth a listen for another huge chorus.
The Unknown - A little too busy (e.g. slicing noises, clicking noises and high-pitched squeals), but effortlessly cool in places, such as the ‘me-ee-ee’ in the chorus.
Second Chances - London Grammar sparseness meets a Bon-Iver-like lament. The pre-chorus is a particular treat.
Release - An unexpected and understated highlight- just Reynolds and his guitar. The simple chorus of ‘I’ve let me down down down down’ is just as effective as some of the band’s more bombastic efforts.
Warriors - If you can look past the fact that it sounds like ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, you’ll enjoy this cartoonish melodrama. Excessive is an understatement.