Imagine Dragons’ second album finds its now-famous creators playing it safe

Imagine Dragons’ first album has sold more than two million copies.
Photo: Elliot Lee Hazel
Smith Galtney

Two stars

Imagine Dragons Smoke + Mirrors

The winners of the Weekly’s Readers Choice poll for Best Local Indie band back in 2010, Imagine Dragons went on to hit the big-big time with 2012’s Night Visions—a rare rock blockbuster that moved two million copies, plus another nine for the single “Radioactive.” (The mere act of typing that word means I’ll be singing the damn chorus for another three months.) Now, after picking up a Grammy for Best Rock Performance and pissing off fellow nominee Josh “f*ck Imagine Dragons” Homme, they’re back with Smoke + Mirrors—a spit-shined, eyes-on-the-prize successor that’s eager to be all things for everybody.

Things start promisingly enough: “Shots,” a synth-poppy tune with U2-esque guitar and a bridge lifted straight from a Peter Gabriel album, is a breezy and utterly irresistible tune about a guy who “shot a hole through every single thing that I love.” Its spare sweetness gets you wondering, Could this be one of those radical, rip-it-up-and-start-again sophomore efforts? Have the Dragons decided to scale back their elephantine sound as a means of moving forward?

Of course not!

From there, things get very familiar, fast. “Gold,” the band’s requisite reflection on success (“first comes the blessing of all that you’ve dreamed, but then comes the curses of diamonds and rings”), battles material ennui with an army of fist pumps. The colossal, timpani-clobbered beats of “I’m So Sorry” and “Polaroid” land right back on arena-ready turf. Elsewhere, “I Bet My Life” thumbs its nose at all the haters who insist this band sounds too much like Coldplay by sounding exactly like … Mumford & Sons? And there’s a moment in “Hopeless Opus,” when the voice of singer Dan Reynolds gets fed through a sampler (“ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb”) that literally made me LOL.

It’s entirely possible Imagine Dragons will have the last laugh. If they stick around long enough, maybe they’ll even pull a Journey and have their legacy reconsidered 30 years down the line. Or they might just become another Hootie & the Blowfish. I’m not banking on either.

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