The difficult second album. It’s one of the great challenges in the career of any band with aspirations to reach the top of the mountain, particularly if they’ve put out a debut as well received as Imagine Dragons’ ‘Night Visions’ was. With singles as immediate and anthemic as “Radioactive” and “Demons” it could only ever have been a resounding success, but inevitably gave the young band a mountain to climb when it came to crafting a follow-up. Not that it seems to have deterred them – ‘Smoke + Mirrors’ is a supremely confident collection of songs that lives up to and surpasses the best of the Imagine Dragons back catalogue.
Far more nuanced and unorthodox than many critics have given it credit for, the album spans myriad genres often within the context of single songs. There are times when this means the record feel’s a tad lost, and the folkier elements of admittedly huge-sounding single “I Bet My Life” and deeper cuts “It Comes Back to You” and “Trouble”. But at its peak this is an enthralling experience; on the one extreme there’s the hip-hop-sass of “Gold” and crunching oriental pulse-charger “Friction”, on the other the lovely ballad “Hopeless Opus” and immaculately produced title track. Producer Alex da Kid indeed deserves plaudits for drawing out the best of the group again and again.
Set to top the bill at some of the country’s vastest arenas on their upcoming tour, Imagine Dragons have filled their arsenal with songs of the appropriate enormity with this new album. ‘Smoke + Mirrors’ may very clearly be geared towards accessibility, but has enough of an edge and significant textural shading to avoid vanilla banality. In other words, the band could have become just another Coldplay clone and laughed all the way to the bank. Instead, they’ve cemented their own identity and recorded a damn good album to boot, and it’s hard to not respect them for that.
~ Michael Bird