Imagine Dragons is an alternative rock/pop band from Las Vegas. They gained popularity in 2012 with their double platinum debut LP, Night Visions. The strong push from Interscope Records and the massive popularity of singles like “Radioactive,” and “On Top of the World,” were important in their success, but the most important factor was Imagine Dragons’ ability to tap into the growing EDM wave which was cresting at this time, and give it a more accessible slant. This ability netted them two more platinum releases in 2015’s Smoke + Mirrors and 2017’s Evolve.
While the group hasn’t exactly been a critical darling over the years, their commercial success is hard to deny and the lead up to this album is no exception. With four singles released ahead of time, including one written for the upcoming Wreck It Ralph sequel, Imagine Dragons has once again overtaken the radio in preparation for this LP. Now that it’s finally here, I must say, it’s a pretty weak outing.
The production, of course, is well done. Working with Interscope Records, it’s virtually impossible to put out a project which isn’t well polished and put together. Origins is no exception. This isn’t nearly enough to save the album, but for so-so tracks like “Cool Out,” or “Bad Liar,” it’s enough to push them over the hump into listenable territory.
Dan Reynolds’ vocals also have a few shining moments. The opener, “Natural,” has a genuinely impressive bridge, and actually got my hopes up far higher than they should’ve been. Throughout the album, Reynold’s vocals, even when performing obnoxious melodies, are one of the only redeemable qualities of this album.
When we come to lyrics, there are exactly two well written tracks which are, puzzlingly, stuck on the very tail end of the ridiculous 50 minute runtime. “Burn Out,” tells a fairly conventional story of battling stress and depression, and though the song is certainly hindered by an abrasive instrumental, the sentiment is expressed well. The best track on the record is the closer, “Real Life,” the only of the fifteen tracks to cover a remotely interesting topic. It follows a man as her attempts to hold his marriage together in spite of the horrors of the modern world. It’s an interesting look at how the terrors of the external world, namely 9/11 and the Boston Bombing, effect the personal lives of those who aren’t directly involved. It’s a unique topic, and it’s handled well, lyrically.
Lyrics, however, are a great place to start on my criticisms of this record. Aside from the two I just mentioned, virtually every other track could’ve been written by a computer. Tracks like “Only,” or “Zero,” are just meaningless. Even a track like “West Coast,” which is genuinely singable, is poisoned by a constant flow of pseudo-meaningful lyricism.
When the lyrics do try to mean something, however, I’m left missing the soullessness of the previous tracks. Perhaps the most egregious here is “Love,” in which Reynolds drones on about the evils of racism in a series of platitudes, ignoring the real issues of institutional and generational racism, to simply point out that we all have the same blood and that skin color doesn’t matter. It’s naiveté borders on disrespect and it’s easily the weakest track of the bunch.
The only common theme that can be found throughout appears heavily in tracks like “Machine,” “Digital,” or “Bullet in a Gun.” That is this idea of being an “outsider,” and dealing with the pressures to conform and give up their artistic integrity. Now, ignoring the fact that this band’s debut album went double platinum by essentially commercializing a sound which was popular in the underground before them, even these tracks are purely top 40 style, pop hits. This, along with very poor writing, makes these songs feel particularly disingenuous. The bridge on “Bullet in a Gun,” in which Reynolds shouts “sell out,” at himself nearly made me turn the record off.
Beyond these lyrical and thematic issues, the instrumentals and hooks are just dreadful. “Boomerang,” borders on unlistenable, “Birds,” is smothered with decade-old trap cymbals, and “Stuck” is driven by an annoying drum track and vocal line that ruins whatever there may have been to appreciate.
When Imagine Dragons hit the scene, their sound was flawed and a bit watered-down, but their youthful energy and catchy delivery masked most of their short comings. Half a decade later, all of that has faded to leave a boring shell of a group.
Origins contains a precious few shining moments, which are buried in a slog of poorly written product which just isn’t worth sifting through.
HEAR ORIGINS: https://open.spotify.com/album/3JfSxDfmwS5OeHPwLSkrfr