Imagine Dragons’ second outing. “Smoke + Mirrors,” proves the difficulty of crafting a sophomore album to follow an outstanding first. While sometimes the songwriting formula needs to adapt with the times, the direction Imagine Dragons has taken has proven weak and short.
The album does reach high marks, but it’s hard to ignore the missteps that the band has taken in an attempt to build on their massively popular “Night Visions.” While the formula for including different styles of music worked well for “Night Visions,” it fails for “Smoke + Mirrors” and sounds like a muddled mess at moments. “Friction,” easily the biggest mistake, tries to make itself different with its use of eclectic instrumentation and electronic influence (somewhat reminiscent of System of a Down). It forces the song along, rather than lets it flow melodically.
The title track, “Smoke + Mirrors,” aptly showcases Dan Reynolds vocal prowess, but lacks in the proper instrumentation to back him and falls into a trance that screams 80s love ballad. Speaking of love ballads, the album has a solemn feel to it that wears itself thin at times. In “I’m So Sorry,” Reynolds attempts to pull off a boisterous rock tune that falls flat with sappy lyrics that include: “So you gotta fire up, you gotta let go / you’ll never be loved till you’ve made your own / you gotta face up, you gotta get yours / you never know the top till you get too low.”
It is noticeable that the album falters as a worthy successor to “Night Visions,” but there are instances where the album shows promise and delivers on the premise of being every bit as deserving as its predecessor. One such highlight was “Shots,” which masterfully blends a mixture of cool synthesizers, driving guitars and Reynolds’s impressive falsetto into an excellent rhythm.
“Gold” feels like it could fit right into the mixed bag of “Night Visions.” The song feels tight and epic without losing its sense of its direction and carries itself properly, minus the awkward introduction.
“I Bet My Life” and “It Comes Back To You” are both impressive pieces in the Imagine Dragons repertoire. Both contain a stadium-esque feel that immediately breathes life into the album with rhythms and profoundly impressive choruses that hook the listener right through the song. It’s hard to listen to this album knowing the potential that this band has in providing their audience with anthems that fill arenas. They are able to write impressive pieces of work, but the vision for “Smoke + Mirrors” ultimately falls through and lends itself to disappointment.
While not a failure, “Smoke + Mirrors” fails to reach its potential, but also leaves listeners with the possibility that with this album will come sweet redemption and hopefully a better third album.