Imagine Dragons – ‘Night Visions’: 9.1/10
Imagine Dragons isn’t a name that’s crossed the minds of much of the public despite being active since 2009. Some of their music may have been though – various ad campaigns and film teasers are set against their chiming melodies, including the 2012 to-be-released film The Perks of Being a Wallflower – but don’t for a second think that it means they’re the type of band who can – or want – to be relegated to second-rate indie pop purveyors only worthy of surfacing to popular consciousness behind an ad for Apple products or low-budget films about coming of age. Whilst yes, the premise for much of Imagine Dragons’ music stems from their own personal experiences with the turmoils of emotional growth and the endless doubts about the great unpredictability of life, their music demands far more appreciation than that – not in an arrogant way, but in a way that’s spoken from the eyes of four men who’ve grown confident as a result of their ability to turn universal insecurities into some magnificent and uplifting. Don’t be fooled by the band’s questionable name either – that’s just a vehicle to introduce the type of limitless imagination and story-telling creativity in store for listeners on any of the four EPs and this, their first full-length album, ‘Night Visions’. The album is a collection of previously released material from the three 2010-2012 EPs, plus six new songs.
As a result of this apparent mix and match selection of old tracks and new, as well as considering Imagine Dragons’ subtle progressive impulses between 2010 and now, the album may feel as if cohesion is left at the starting line two years ago, with the dubstep-influenced ‘Radioactive’ kicking off proceedings with an unevenly undulating bass wub and a post-apocalyptic lyrics. It’s noticeably the darkest moment on the album because, unlike the rest of the tracks, Dan Reynolds makes no attempt to remedy the angst and aggression exploding outwards in each hair-raising chorus. In fact, all the choruses of ‘Night Visions’ form a sound that never fails to take off and send fists skyward (multi-voiced harmonies rarely do) and it plays to the band’s strengths as, combined with the band’s ear for a killer hook and Reynolds’ grounded poetic lyricism, the opulence of the world Imagine Dragons create shines through the terrifying blackness they sing against. It’s probably for the best that ‘Radioactive’ comes first, because after that the band turn up the empathy and the luminosity of their music with ‘Tiptoe’ and ‘It’s Time’. The latter is an epic anthem straight from the winning Imagine Dragons formula and one of the highlights of the album. With a swirling chorus and lyrics of unshaken determination and confidence, Reynolds delivers a triumphant performance set to Homerian poetry (“So this is where you fell/And I am left as well/The path to Heaven runs through miles of clouded Hell/Right to the top”) and is as expansive yet intimate as a candlelit dinner in the Nevada Desert. At the opposite end of the spectrum to ‘Radioactive’ is ‘On Top of the World’, a shamelessly optimistic, pure pop ditty accompanied by whistles and hoots and just about the catchiest moment of the entire album. But it too comes fully-armed with its own message of what comes from perseverance and drive, urging listeners to “Take it in but don’t look down”. On paper it should read like a laboriously naive pep talk, but in reality, it’s just as easy to get swept away in the rhythm as it is to be a cynic. ‘Demons’ runs similarly, with touches of The Fray with its stadium-sized chorus succumbing to the fear of past ghosts and memories and warning a lover not to “get too close; it’s dark inside”. As maudlin as it sounds, the whole concept is kept refreshing due to the empathy which can be drawn from Reynolds’ troublesome thoughts. He ends up crumbling in the middle eight – “I can’t escape this now, unless you show me how” but it feels so convicted that it convincingly captures the stammering wrecks that paranoia and fear of intimacy can reduce people too. There’s more than simply an eagerness to douse listeners with negative emotions mixed with swelling grandiloquence; there’s the sense that Imagine Dragons are drawing upon everyone’s insecurities and triumphing over them by the time each song comes to a close.
The unquestioned highlight of the album is ‘Amsterdam’. Originally appearing in 2011 on the ‘It’s Time’ EP, it blends their rockier roots with more sonic, Edge-type guitars. A bubbling mix of bass, drums and Reynolds’ deeper, gruffer register at first, before erupting into a sky-scraping chorus that hunts fervently for a space big enough to accommodate its four-minute-long climax which, by the end, shows us that Reynolds’ barely needs multiple versions of himself to command a large chorus – his voice is simply astonishing. 2010 track ‘Hear Me’ follows suit and its round about now it becomes obvious that the further back you go the rockier the band get, but all through the intervening years they’ve kept the same theme and re-spun it with poise and impeccable craftsmanship each and every time.
Further down, ‘Nothing Left To Say’ closes the album with a downbeat message but with a weightless, buoyant groove and super-sized drums. The song yearns for the stadium audience it was written and produced for, with ethereal chanting, powerful harmonies and surging instrumentation it’s the most unabashedly massive moment the album has to offer, and the softer guitar and viola-assisted crooning at the song’s coda acts as a suitably memorable closer to an album of some of the finest rock and pop songs this year. It’s a triumph against the internal anguish and insecurities that exist in all of us – it’s not a pretentious lesson on how to make it all go away; nor is it a blasé pep talk that ultimately does nothing except inform us there are other people going through the same thing. It takes that fear and that paranoia and transforms it throughout it’s forty-five minute duration into something that’s truly inspirational and escapist if you want it to be, and simply damn good music if you don’t.
Digital Release: September 3, 2012
Physical Release: September 3, 2012 Download: the album.