Imagine Dragons Hope to Eliminate Solitude in Our Modern Existence on 'Origins'
Imagine Dragons return with Origins, a passionate set of songs with soothing instrumentals and sentimental lyrics, but too limited in its pop strengths.
9 November 2018
Imagine Dragons' fourth album, Origins, is better focused than its immediate predecessor, 2017's Evolve, but still follows a safe path and never generates much excitement. Frontman Dan Reynolds sings with carousing ambition, and the album contains interesting instrumental forays with guitar solos and solid backing. In the end, it's simply too middle-of-the-road, sure to chart well and find audiences attracted to clear pop sensibilities, but indicative of the band searching for too much and committing too little to veer away from where they've found success.
Origins was produced with much of the same production team behind Evolve, including Alex da Kid, Joel Little, Mattman & Robin, and John Hill, but added Jorgen Odegard and Kygo as collaborators. The album includes a track produced for promotion and inclusion of Disney's animated film Ralph Breaks the Internet, "Zero", while the strong opening track and lead single, "Natural", was used to promote college football on ESPN (another Disney connection). "Natural" opens with a throbbing vocal performance initially backed with a loud hummed harmony, before transitioning into a beating, engulfing charge of lyrical demands. There is a nice, quiet refrain across the middle of the track, and compositionally the song feels like a determined, confident band. The song recalls the popularity of their massive hit "Radioactive", both in style and substance. It's the kind of throbbing, stadium stomping hit that perfectly promos football and is equally radio-friendly without sounding like you've heard the song on TV. In a similar style, "Boomerang", "Machine", and "Cool Out" track different pop styles, from acoustic through electronic bass-driven instrumentals, to heavily synthetic keys that quickly muddle the direction of the album as opened by "Natural".
Imagine Dragons excel with a strong pop-rock song like "Natural", and their experimentations are not without merit, but Origins includes generous musical compositions like "Bad Liar" and "West Coast" that are easily disregarded. Neither evoke the crowd-pleasing and loud hits to be found on the radio but explore different elements of modern pop songs and fit perfectly alongside "Natural". Both feel acoustic and quietly evoke emotional necessity, but also don't always feel like they are trying to do so. "Bad Liar" is confessional with sweet instrumentals and a nice soundscape for Reynolds lyrics that transitions with similar impassioned pleas featured on "Naturals" and reminiscent of "Radioactive" and give the song depth. An acoustic guitar picked dominates "West Coast" and provides a clever counter to more use of background melodies and striking percussion.
Without having seen the Disney film for Zero, it's easy enough to discern how the song will end Ralph Breaks the Internet and play over the credits. Lyrics search for feeling and escape, and ultimately it is a forced composition that breaks the trajectory of the album unnecessarily. Of course, this highlights a faltering component of Origins and Imagine Dragons, but equally an aspect their fans and pop listeners are looking for: catchy, sentimental, and personal. Dan Reynolds shares a lot of himself in the lyrics to "Zero", so remember it's meant to play with Ralph, too.
Imagine Dragons explore a lot of musical terrain on Origins, a surprising element that appears more audibly on tracks like "Bullet in a Gun". Reynolds lyrics screech in his style, but the track carries a strong beat and electronic elements that compliment the repeated title in the refrain and effectively carry the song while Reynolds lyrics screen and distract. Those aspects reflect a refreshing hip-hop influence on the track, but the simple, direct lyrics don't redirect the album effectively away from "Zero". Dominating lyrics and percussion direct the music on "Digital" to evoke modern existence and social distortions, primarily in repeating the "same thing" (literally, that's the lyrics) that makes digital existence operate. The song claims "we want to change everything", but the song and the album it's on don't demonstrate that message.
The final three tracks of the album convey too general messages in line with "Digital". Lyrical delivery segues into a strong key-based instrumental and chorus on "Only", but the message of solitude is not compelling, and the song sounds like it is presenting sentimentality for that existence. Sentimentality largely closes Origins, with "Stuck" and "Love" demonstrating a vulnerability through Reynolds lyrics, and calling for reprieve amidst chaos and disorder.
Origins includes enough interesting tracks to carry Imagine Dragons success further, but the band's strength in composing bombastic and loud songs that are immediate and inspire crowd-pleasing revelry are too few. Cheers to the band and their collaborators for producing sonic diversions and conveying messages designed to eliminate solitude and alienation in modern culture, but those elements fall flat with tracks too general in scope that dominate the album. Imagine Dragons are confident in their capability and knowledge of pop music, but Origins tries too hard to demonstrate their varied interests with the results generic and indistinct.