2017 radio is strangely devoid of rock music. While guitar-driven rock songs dominated the mid-‘90s, rap and pop currently command the airwaves, with only the occasional rock hit finding a home at top 40 radio. Las Vegas rock band, Imagine Dragons, hope to buck that trend with their third album, Evolve.
Imagine Dragons burst onto the scene in 2012 when sleeper-hit, “Radioactive,” crossed over to pop radio.
The Grammy-winning single crystallized what the band did best: namely, fusing electronic, hip-hop, and alternative music against booming drums and lead singer, Dan Reynolds’, trachea-shredding vocals. The amalgamation of styles struck a chord, as “Radioactive” spent a record-shattering 87 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, propelling parent album, Night Visions, to multi-platinum success. Their ambitious follow-up, 2015’s Smoke + Mirrors, became their first #1 album, while contributions to the Divergent, Suicide Squad, and Passengers soundtracks further solidified their position as rock music saviors. The pieces were in place for their third album to launch Imagine Dragons into the stratosphere.
Sadly, Evolve fails to deliver anything new, with too many of the songs retreading previous glories: the rap-like verses and vitriolic vocal of “Believer” is “Radioactive” MK 2.0. The mid-tempo, lighters-in-the-air chorus of “Walking the Wire” is this year’s “Demons.” And the echoing drums that give “Thunder” its punch are the same ones heard throughout Night Visions. Similarly, instead of expanding their sound, the band simply dialed up the synth-y, vaguely-ethereal production of their first album, resulting in Tangerine Dream-lite soundscapes that sound more like the soundtrack to Molly Ringwald’s first kiss, and less like a brave step forward for rock music’s torch-bearers. Consequently, while none of the songs sound abysmal, they all suffer from familiarity.
Furthermore, the album’s occasional sonic deviations are a mixed bag. “I’ll Make It Up to You” twinkles with simplistic beauty, thanks to one of Reynolds’ rare, restrained vocals, yet “Yesterday” and its hand claps, punishing piano, and waltz-like melody is the unholy love child of Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman” and Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” Strangest of all is “Dancing in the Dark.” Sadly, not an inspired Bruce Springsteen cover, the closing track’s distorted, “if you ever want to join me/I’ll be dancing in the dark” chorus and minimal, floaty production acts as the perfect homage to cold ‘80s synth-pop. It’s a bizarre detour for rock’s reigning royalty.
Evolve certainly has its strengths, namely Reynolds’ commanding vocal, which impresses whether he’s spitting rapid-fire verses like a pseudo-MC on “I Don’t Know Why,” or belting out his trademark sing-shout style in the chorus to “Start Over.” The visuals—including excellent, Tron-inspired single artwork, and the amusing boxing-against-Dolph-Lundgren music video for “Believer”—are also noteworthy in their attention to detail.
Despite not being the evolutionary leap forward its title suggests, Evolve delivers solid, if unspectacular songs. But most importantly, it’s a hit: the album debuted at #2, and “Believer” recently became the first rock single to make the top ten in 2017. Imagine Dragons fill an essential void in popular music, and as long as guitar-driven music continues to die out, their music needn’t evolve so much as rock.