Imagine Dragons’ new album is by no means revolutionary, but it’s definitely evolutionary. In the rock band’s third LP Evolve, old sounds are mixed with new influences based on contemporary radio hits.
Further deviating from the band’s rock origins, Evolve is a mish-mash of electronic and pop-tinged anthems that attempt to veer from the emotional detonations that dominated their sophomore record, Smoke + Mirrors. Though not quite as impressive as the band’s multi-platinum debut Night Visions, Evolve is a testament to Imagine Dragons’ remarkable capability of transcending genre-based barriers that have kept rock musicians from making it to the top of today’s pop music-dominated charts.
Arguably the band’s most successful single to date, “Radioactive” still holds the all-time record for its 87-week appearance on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. And currently at No. 15, the album’s lead single “Believer” is one of the only exceptions to a Top 25 dominated by pop, electronic, hip-hop and in-between hits on the radio. Aside from “Believer,” Evolve demonstrates the concerning idea that artists must singularly appeal to pop listeners to have career longevity and lasting success.
The record’s synthy opener “I Don’t Know Why” is bouncy, yet lifeless — with manufactured lyrics such as “I don’t know why but it’s got something to do with you” that strive to bring an awkward mid-tempo song to pop-EDM catchiness. The following track, “Whatever It Takes,” serves as another example of the band’s clunky songwriting, as lead vocalist Dan Reynolds sings his verses and choruses in an unnatural rap-like rhythm.
Similarly, “Dancing in the Dark” and “Yesterday” both signify Imagine Dragons’ ambitious attempts to blend rock with mainstream influences. Neither catchy nor memorable, these songs leave listeners confused about the band’s clumsy rock-electronic blend. But as proven, Imagine Dragons is not the typical rock band.
In Evolve, it seems like Imagine Dragons is trading theatricality for more nuanced sounds. But in the midst of this experimentation, the band performs best when it’s not trying as hard to sound different — it’s in the songs balancing the new and old that best captures the band’s progression as contemporary rock musicians.
With a feel-good message and stompy beats reminiscent of breakout hit “It’s Time,” “Walking the Wire” is one of the better songs on Evolve’s tracklist. Though Imagine Dragons uses less acoustics and more synths here, the song is evidence of the group’s potential to achieve 2017-style music stardom while not completely straying from their roots. “Start Over” powers through as another worthy anthem — not because it’s game-changing, but because it successfully combines tropical house influences with Reynolds’ thunderous chorus chant-roars (the same ones that brought “Radioactive” to chart-topping success).
“Thunder,” the album’s second single, is the final piece of the puzzle, proving Imagine Dragons’ aptitude for bringing new sounds and influences into their music production. Though still at No. 87 on the Billboard Top 100 chart, the single could be yet another sleeper hit by the band (“Radioactive” entered the charts at No. 96 in September 2012 and stayed in the low end until April 2013).
Although Imagine Dragons is heading into new musical territory, one thing remains clear: The band will continue to stay relevant in the contemporary music scene. It wasn’t mere wonder or luck that catapulted Reynolds and his mates out of obscurity — it was their uncanny ability to blend arena rock with pop-worthy chants into power ballads. And while Evolve is not necessarily a cohesive work, it serves as a lesson for current musicians looking to break through genre barriers: Successful evolution is a compromise between new and old influences.