Photo Credit: Imagine Dragons via Instagram
Las Vegas quartet Imagine Dragons have never been ‘album artists’ so to speak. Across the last decade, the band has worked with the biggest producers of the day to create mega-hit singles that become so inescapable that you ultimately have no choice but to surrender and let them lodge themselves into your brain. They enlisted Alex da Kid (Eminem, Nicki Minaj, Dr. Dre) to create hits like “Radioactive” and “Believer”, as well as Grammy Award-winner Joel Little (Lorde, Khalid, Shawn Mendes, Marina) and duo Mattman and Robin who co-produced Taylor Swift’s landmark 1989, as well as Carly Rae Jepsen’s cult classic EMOTION. On the band’s sixth album, the hit-makers remain, but no hits come to fruition.
Mercury is a double album – its first half having been released in 2021 – suggesting that it’s a conceptual framework that’s been lacking in the band’s previous work. The album’s length – taken together, the songs stretch across over an hour and a half – suggests a newfound scope and ambition to the music contained within. But, while the band hints at exploring new depths, and the songs are loosely stringed together by a handful of shared themes, this is still an Imagine Dragons album, and sophisticated it is not.
The music of Mercury – Act 2 is more subdued than past efforts – a welcome departure from previous claustrophobia-inducing releases – but it is no more subtle. Mental health struggles are a throughline across Act 2 but are never explored in a way that is compelling or novel. Opener “Bones” hints towards an interesting wider examination, with cries of “Our patience is waning, is this entertaining?” – recalling Sleater-Kinney’s hurried cries of, “So you want to be entertained? Please look away” on the superior “Entertain.” Ultimately, however, it devolves into a hackneyed plastic chorus that makes the whole song feel disposable. Elsewhere, Dan Reynolds sounds alternately self-pitying and try-hard – “I try every time, but I get no peace of mind,” he sings on “Easy Come Easy Go”, over-enunciating every other word in the process.
There’s nothing as emotionally compelling here as Act 1’s “Easy Come Easy Go”, which in spite of its ridiculous rhyming of “chemo”, “hero”, and “zero”, felt admirably authentic in it’s portrayal of pain as our narrator watched a lifelong friend battle bone cancer. But no one has ever come to Imagine Dragons looking for depth – or, at least, if they have, they’ve surely left bitterly disappointed. People come to the band for earworm hooks and anthemic choruses – it’s why the band continue to reliably sell out shows across the world, even as their standing among die-hard rock fans hovers around Nickelback-level lows.
The awkwardness of past Imagine Dragon releases still plagues Act 2 (as does some new awkwardness) – but that’s far from its worst offense. It’s most unforgivable sin, ultimately, is the complete lack of any real anthems, hits or heavy-hitters. That its lead single only reached the 87th spot on the Billboard Hot 100, despite significant radio airplay speaks to such. No one is expecting a masterpiece from the band at this point, but is it really too much to ask for something that isn’t such a chore to listen to? Turns out that once you remove the indelible melodies from Imagine Dragons music, there’s very little appeal left – even for the most hardcore of fans.