Smoke + Mirrors
While trekking through sold-out arenas around the world to support its 2012 smash debut, Night Visions, Imagine Dragons was already feverishly thinking about its next move. How could it not? The more singles it released, the bigger it seemed to get. And so, the Vegas band approached its 2015 sophomore album as another skyscraping mountain to climb—or better yet, move. Smoke + Mirrors embraces all the band’s melting-pot whims while leaning more heavily into its rock ambitions. If possible, the songs here thrash and thunder with even more might than those of its predecessor, perhaps a symptom of the daunting weight of Imagine Dragons’ success. As on Night Visions, frontman Dan Reynolds thrives in emotional extremes, but here he’s more pointed in his words, and his target—himself. “I’m sorry for everything, oh, everything I’ve done,” he cries at the top of opener “Shots,” a shimmery synth-pop romp that still manages to triumphantly gallop into the sunset. On “Gold,” he frets over the impact of his band’s Midas touch: “Who can you trust when everything you touch turns to gold?” he roars over a Zeus-worthy stomp. Meanwhile, on “Dream,” he slips into a Coldplay-like mood, falsetto and all, determined to keep dreaming because “everything’s a mess.” The rest of the band is just as eager to push beyond respective limits. Guitarist Wayne Sermon muscles up with the bluesy, Black Keys-esque riffs that pummel through the reverb-laden “I’m So Sorry.” He flexes even harder on the folky battle cry “I Bet My Life,” another anthem that vies for world domination. Throughout, bassist/keyboardist Ben McKee and drummer Daniel Platzman are feverishly sculpting the mood, most menacingly on the sitar-meets-metal bruiser “Friction” and most playfully on the polyrhythmic uplifter “Summer.” Much of Smoke + Mirrors was written on the road, with an aim for even bigger arenas to conquer. While nothing here quite matched the Herculean triumph of 2012’s “Radioactive,” the more vulnerable moments and sonic experiments would set the tone for the band’s next evolution.