I Hated Imagine Dragons -- Until Their New Album, Origins, Changed My Mind
In honor of Pride Month, Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds offers his support for the LGBTQ community, and hopes to use his platform to advance equality. USA TODAY
It happened slowly, Imagine Dragons’ transition from “the annoying band in all the movie trailers” to “the slightly-less-annoying band whose song I won’t change on the radio” to “the band whose album I may listen to, voluntarily.”
The band’s journey to becoming one of the biggest rock bands of the decade, though, seemed to happen all at once. One day they were nobodies; the next, their 2013 breakthrough single “Radioactive” was everywhere, a process that repeated with “Believer,” their 2017 single that seemingly appeared in every other blockbuster movie trailer that year. Their numerous Grammy nominations may fall in the rock category, but Imagine Dragons are even less a rock band than their Coldplay and Maroon 5 Top 40-radio brethren.
Instead, their music takes the most emotive songwriting trends of 2010s music, all those moments in popular folk and pop and EDM songs designed to make the listener feel something, and packages them together. It’s a Frankensteinian formula that, with its boot-stomping folk melodies and synth bloops over heavy beats and crashing choruses, sounds like an artificial-intelligence-generated representation of the music millennials are supposed to like.
More:How Imagine Dragons' faceless rock music became the genre's future
And while this millennial fought against them for so long, considering Imagine Dragons the embodiment of everything boring about pop music right now, something changed over the past few years, culminating in the band’s new release “Origins,” its most listenable album yet. Maybe it’s because nothing on the album is as tedious as “Believer,” a song so painful that I banished the phrase “first things first” from my personal vocabulary on principle. While vocalist Dan Reynolds is still bellowing for dear life on initial singles “Natural” and “Machine,” the songs are less grating than their predecessors, especially the latter track’s Foo Fighters-soundalike elements.
That’s one knock I used to have on the band: that their music sounded like an amalgamation of all of the most unremarkable songs on Top 40 radio. And yet, listening to “Origins” and hearing the various obvious soundalikes to other popular hits, I find myself preferring Imagine Dragons’ versions to the ones they remind me of, like the band’s “Only,” which is a slightly more palatable version of the Chainsmokers’ “Something Just Like This.” Whether it’s that Imagine Dragons improved or that the rest of the music on pop radio has all become indistinguishable, at some point, disliking the band on principle became harder to justify.
“Origins” is still very much an Imagine Dragons album, which means its predominant characteristics are its ersatz production, songwriting that is just decent enough not to be distractingly bad, and Reynolds’ folksy croons that turn into throat-shredding wails when the tracks’ choruses roll around. The tropes are still there, of course – the twangy treacle “West Coast,” with a chorus that uses the entire left coast of the United States as a personality characteristic; a song “Digital,” about the plugged-in generation that’s the “face of the future”; and the prerequisite closing track “Love” preaching unity.
But while “Origins” does very few things differently from their last album, there were still moments that caught me by surprise, like the deliriously-‘80s vibes of “Zero” or the twinkling power ballad “Cool Out.” And while its highlights aren't so frequent to elevate "Origins" to best-albums-of-2018 status, the album is listenable enough to delight fans, most likely, and to prompt some soul-searching from haters like me. And while I'm not quite converted into a Firebreather – which, yes, is a real thing Imagine Dragons superfans call themselves – the band's new album, to paraphrase a certain hit song that I'm still never going to like, has made me a believer.
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