Imagine Dragons on a prog website? Why not? Since 2012, they have been (in my opinion) the band to watch in alternative pop-rock. They have been making a living and a career in the 21st century pop world, not on image, status or stunts, but on songs. While they aren’t prog, they certainly have a strand of prog DNA (they often cite Rush, Muse, and The Beatles as influences, and have even covered “Tom Sawyer” in concert). Their first two albums, Night Visions and Smoke + Mirrors, are favorites of mine. I was disappointed with their last record, Evolve, but while Origins is not as strong as their first two albums, it seems to be the beginning of a return to form.
As anyone who’s heard their two biggest hits (“Radioactive” and “Believer”) knows, drummer Daniel Platzman is arguably the most important member of the band. Imagine Dragons songs are built on the drum beat, and this album is no exception. But on this album, his beats are more creative and nuanced. The song “Boomerang” is a good example, in which he uses some world music and jazz-influenced beats that work really well. The drum production is also very different; rather than heavily reverbed and slightly distorted acoustic sounds, Platzman is using a straight-up electric kit. It’s a huge change in sound, and it works.
I also love that they’re using Wayne again! In my opinion, Wayne Sermon is just about the most underrated guitarist in indie rock. (Listen to the riff from “Shots” or the solo on “Warriors.”) His awesome playing was pushed to the wayside on Evolve, his role usurped by synthesizers and pianos, and it was one of the primary reasons I wasn’t a fan of that album. But on Origins, he’s once again an important part of the band’s sound. “Machine” centers around his riffs and includes an epic guitar solo with hints of avant-garde influence. It reminds me of Adrian Belew or Ler LaLonde of Primus. “West Coast” is based on an infectious acoustic bluegrass riff. Origins showcases a balance between synthesizer and guitar that is not to be found on any previous Imagine Dragons album.
You could make the case that Origins is singer Dan Reynolds’ tour de force. He’s struck a great balance between the angst of Night Visions and the smoothness of Evolve. The opening track, “Natural,” is a great example. He’s also using a lot less pitch-shifting and AutoTune than he did on his last record, which I like. (Pitch-shifting is probably the most annoying sound on the planet.) One gets the impression that he’s really found his voice on this record.
I’ve now written a paragraph about every member of the band-except for bassist Ben McKee. And that’s probably my biggest complaint about Origins-the lack of bass guitar. Unlike Wayne, he has not really recovered from Evolve‘s onslaught of synthesizer. I’m not sure if he plays at all on this album, or if they’ve just replaced him with a machine, but the pop world’s neglect of bassists has got to stop. McKee is a solid bassist and was responsible for some of the best moments on Night Visions. Take the melodic line in the second verse of “Demons,” for example. Please, please let us hear him play! (I play bass, so I might be a smidge biased. But still.)
There are a couple songs I haven’t mentioned that I’d like to highlight. “Bad Liar” is a classic Imagine Dragons ballad, but with a more modern, electronic feel. It’s on par with anything from their first two records. “Love” closes the album on a positive note. It reminds me of The Beatles, both in the catchy melody and the borderline-hippy-dippy lyrics, although, the fact that lyrics about love and peace and things of that nature are just as relevant today as they were in the 60s says something about the world, and not a very flattering something. The Beatles are Reynolds’ favorite band, and this is a song that would make them proud of their pop-rock protégé. “Natural”, the opening track, is the definitive Imagine Dragons song, drawing sounds and styles from all four of the band’s albums. It’s probably my favorite song on the album and sets up the rest of the record perfectly. Besides these three, “Machine” and “West Coast” are my favorite tracks from Origins, not least because of Wayne Sermon’s contributions.
Overall, this album is a solid alt-rock album by four “sneaky-good” musicians that I’d encourage you to try out. While the individual songs aren’t quite as good as those on Night Visions, there’s a lot to be enjoyed here. This very talented band is moving in an interesting artistic direction and I’m very interested to see what they do on their next album!
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