Mercury - Act 1
“I never fully comprehend, thematically, what the record is about,” Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds tells Apple Music about their fifth full-length album. “I’m not that deliberate, for better or worse, when I’m writing.” After three years and some band therapy, Mercury - Act 1 arrives as ascending, eclectic, accessible arena rock, amplified by a new collaborator: legendary producer Rick Rubin (Beastie Boys, Johnny Cash, System of a Down, Tom Petty, AC/DC, Red Hot Chili Peppers). “They're wildly sophisticated in their production ability, in their playing, and in their writing, this glut of greatness,” Rubin says of the band.
Rubin’s style allowed Reynolds to rectify his loss of religious faith and discover a new kind of meaning on record. “My first goal with creating art is putting out something that is honest,” Reynolds says. “One of the things that has been so inspiring to me working with Rick is I have been trying to refine spirituality and belief. When the rug is pulled out on you with religion, I was left with nothing. It made me trust no one. Any story anybody told me, it was a ghost story. I've been trying to refine believing in deeper things, unexplainable things. I'm trusting where I feel honesty. Rick is honest.”
Mercury - Act 1 became a record about letting go—about moving forward (like in the haunting vocal overlays of “Wrecked,” a song written about Reynolds’ sister-in-law who died of cancer in 2019)—and about accepting what terrifies us. “My biggest fear in life, and I didn't know this until recently, is lack of control,” Reynolds admits, revealing that he confronted that fear in a spiritually transformative ayahuasca trip, which no doubt influenced the record. “I had to give up control completely. And I died. Spiritually, I felt like I died. I saw so many things in my life from a bird's-eye view. Then I heard like the bell and this incredible shaman came over and was helping me come alive again. It felt like a rebirth. It was everything I was told religion would give to me.”
If Mercury - Act 1 sounds darker than its predecessor, 2018’s Origins, it’s because Imagine Dragons have never been so forthright; Rubin brought it out of the band. The ebullient percussion of “It’s Ok,” the shimmery piano of “Easy Come Easy Go,” the thunderous nu-metal-adjacent “Cutthroat,” the glitchy romance of “Monday”—all of these kaleidoscopic elements work to mirror Reynolds’ understanding that some things are out of our control, and that’s all right. “I'd be overly metaphorical out of fear of people knowing what I was talking about,” Reynolds says. “I have a hard enough time knowing that people are going to hear what I'm talking about.”