Evolve review by Imagine Dragons

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  • Released: Jun 23, 2017
  • Sound: 7
  • Lyrics: 7
  • Overall Impression: 7
  • Reviewer's score: 7 Good
  • Users' score: 5.2 (32 votes)
Imagine Dragons: Evolve
8

Sound — 7
Like it or not, pop and rock have always been in cahoots from day one, when rock and roll was first invented and there wasn't as clear of a delineation between the two music forms. Whether it be Chuck Berry, The Beatles, ABBA, Bee Gees, Michael Jackson, pop music and rock have had an inexorable bond. However, this may have changed a bit since the 1980s, when pop began to focus more exclusively on electronic synthesizers and less on live drums and guitars, technology taking it in directions never before possible. Rock, on the other hand, continued steeped in traditional values. Attempts for one side to take cues from the other have never quite yielded much in the way of a synergistic combination of the two for a very long time, usually with one element feeling tacked-on to the other, like a ripping guitar solo in the middle of a Backstreet Boys song or an electronic beat in the middle of a Nickelback tune.

But then, in 2012, Las Vegas band Imagine Dragons' debut full-length album "Night Visions" hit shelves, and the band had done something that had seemed impossible since digital technology conquered the pop music scene: effortlessly blended pop with rock. Here was a band that, despite protestations from rock purists, were rather decent instrumentalists, blending the sounds of their natural instruments with dubstep synths and hip-hop inspired beats, scoring a massive hit with the song "Radioactive". 2015's "Smoke + Mirrors" only solidified the band's blend of rock and pop, extending both genres' influences with some of their hardest-rocking tunes to date ("Friction" getting to near nu-metal levels of heaviness in live performances) and some of the band's catchiest pop tunes (like the funky "Shots").

The direction taken on "Evolve" is fairly similar, expanding the focus on the band's pop elements, and bringing in many 80s pop flavours. Sadly, there aren't really any rockers on the album like "I'm So Sorry" or "Friction" from their previous albums on "Evolve", and the focus is really more on 80s pop pastiches such as opening track "I Don't Know Why" and the absolutely slick, retro "I'll Make It Up to You". The band's trademark "arena rock" style it pioneered with tracks "Radioactive" continues on "Whatever It Takes" and "Mouth of the River". More minimalist pop arrangements come in on the album's first two major singles, "Believer" and "Thunder". Shades of Coldplay and U2 can be heard on "Walking the Wire" and "Rise Up". "Start Over" utilizes ethnic-sounding percussion to be a kind of millennial answer to Toto's classic "Africa". "Yesterday" stands as probably the strangest track on the album, with a stompy sort of start-stop arrangement and some off-kilter lead guitar sounds during the solo. "Dancing in the Dark" ends the album on a softer note, with mostly only synths and hip-hop beats with Dan Reynolds' vocals.

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With the album's heavy emphasis on electronic pop instrumentation, it might be easy to criticize the apparent lack of performances from guitarist Wayne Sermon, bassist Ben McKee, and drummer Daniel Platzman, and truth be told, you'll have more luck picking out their individual performances from live performances of the band's songs, but on the record, there are actually some rather interesting moments from them. Platzman refers to the triplet drum beat in "Believer" as actually being somewhat difficult to execute precisely. Sermon's guitar playing is present throughout the album (and in a far more obvious way than Brad Delson's on the recent Linkin Park album, another comparable effort for a rock band to go pop), and while it's quite rare that he takes solos, he does get some good lead guitar moments on "Yesterday" and "I'll Make it Up to You", though he's still far from a shredder. McKee is not really as present in the mix as the other members, possibly owing to the amount of effects used on his bass, but his low end is something that would be missing without him.

The band's writing is pretty much on-point for pop music, and the band does feature a few outside songwriters, including Swedish duo Mattias Larsson and Robin Fredriksson on many tracks, though the band does utilize fewer than most pop artists out there today, and all four members are still credited on all songs. Despite having no fewer than six producers across the different tracks, with Mattias and Robin handling a majority of the tracks, there's a sort of sense of sonic cohesion throughout the record.

Lyrics — 7
Describing the album's lyrics as coming from "a place of arrival", the band's previous effort, "Smoke + Mirrors", seemed to delve a bit too deeply into Dan Reynolds' introspection, while "Evolve" seems to be more celebratory and inspirational in mood. This certainly plays into the chorus of the most recent single, "Whatever it Takes", which is about doing whatever it takes to achieve success: "Whatever it takes/'Cause I love the adrenaline in my veins/I do whatever it takes/'Cause I love how it feels when I break the chains/Whatever it takes/Yeah take me to the top/I'm ready for whatever it takes/'Cause I love the adrenaline in my veins/I do what it takes". And even while pain was a prominent theme on "Smoke + Mirrors", it has even found a reason to be celebrated on "Believer", where it is described as a tool to learn from and better one's self. "Rise Up" is a call to arms to do exactly that: "I would always open up the door/Always looking up at higher floors/Wanna see it all give me more (rise, rise up)/I was always up for making changes/Walking down the street meeting strangers/Flipping through my life turning pages (rise, rise up)". Sometimes, the lyrics are fairly well-written, but in a few cases, such as "Mouth of the River", seem a bit overly repetitive, with the song's title appearing in the lyrics at least twenty times in under four minutes.

Dan Reynolds' vocals are very much a product of the era, definitely a millenial version of Coldplay's Chris Martin or U2's Bono, with a higher raspy voice that has been utilized less and less with each album, but on certain tracks, he can still belt out quite well. He's certainly not a bad vocalist at all, but the production does sometimes ruin his performances, such as closing track "Dancing in the Dark", which I think is a very weak track overall, but especially so with the weak vocal production and extreme amounts of effects and pitch correction on the harmony backing vocals.

Overall Impression — 7
Among rock fans, having a soft spot for pop music is usually little more than a "guilty pleasure", but Imagine Dragons has somehow figured out a way to toe that line (in fact, I recently heard "Radioactive" on my hometown's local hard rock radio station) and appeal to both mainstream pop fans as well as rockers. On the band's third album, the band doesn't really shake up their sound all too much, delivering pretty much a similar formula to the band's first two records, though perhaps with a bit more of an emphasis on the pop elements. At times, the band can get a bit heavier than some of its contemporaries, and there's certainly more in terms of rock instrumentation and rock-style use of it, like guitar solos and distorted guitar power chords, than what you'll hear from other similar bands. With some bands even going as far as trying to imitate the style, such as Linkin Park on "One More Light", it does seem rather innovative that a rock band could achieve this much success on both the pop and rock fronts.

Luckily, too, this album, along with the rest of their discography, fares much better in terms of musical quality than other attempts to do the same. There's a certain mood to their music that makes it both epic and fun, and while there are certainly times where I'd rather hear something heavier and more technical, if there's any mainstream pop group out there right now that's actually worth a listen, I say it'd have to be Imagine Dragons. "Evolve" is a pretty decent record, pretty much the average for the band, and there's nothing that's really going to throw off any long-time fans of the band. Just some solid pop-rock tunes that are slickly executed. It's got some less-than-stellar moments, too, but what this album does right is still worth checking out, overall. But in my opinion, the album's best songs are "I Don't Know Why" and "I'll Make it Up to You", which are very catchy, '80s-themed tunes that definitely suit the retro feel of the album's awesome cover, and both feature some pretty nice synth and guitar work.

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38 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Daimontz
    Saw them live 2 weeks ago at Rock Werchter. Best song they played was Song 2 by Blur.  It wasn't good.
    HugoPan
    their first record was really, really good. the second one was utter garbage. not pumped for this at all.
    travislausch
    I'd say this one is at least better than their second. Their second was incredibly bloated, while this one, to me, at least seems a bit more stripped-down and listenable.  Their first was definitely their best, though.
    dannydg92
    I do really like chorus of 'Believer' quite a lot. And I like the parts of the video where the singer gets punched in the face. Don't know why. 'Thunder' makes me tear my hair out, though. Haven't heard the other songs. Overall, I really don't think they that bad for a poppy rock band, or a rocky pop band -- whatever.
    vppark2
    I mean, I guess. But if I had to choose between Mumford & Sons, or Coldplay between these guys then I would choose the other bands.
    travislausch
    I guess if we're picking older Coldplay, I'm with you on that, but I honestly can't stand Mumford & Sons, and Coldplay's more recent stuff has been leaving me very cold. 
    TheBlisterer
    Really? I quite liked adventure of a life time
    travislausch
    I actually haven't listened to the most recent Coldplay stuff yet (except their new EP for... reasons ) but I mostly mean Mylo Xyloto and Ghost Stories, did nothing for me. Their new EP, Kaleidoscope, does have a couple of moments that made me go "hmmm... interesting", though.
    vppark2
    I think the bigger question is if I would rather listen to these guys over Twenty One Pilots.
    travislausch
    I'm gonna admit it right now. I've never heard a Twenty One Pilots song in my life and I have no real particular plans to.
    vppark2
    Im surprised. They play the same 3 songs on the radio (not that I really listen to it, but esp going out in public u will hear that sort of stuff).
    travislausch
    I haven't listened to terrestrial broadcast radio on a regular basis since I lived with my ex, years ago. When I do these days, it's in my boss' car, and she usually has it on political talk radio  
    travislausch
    "Thunder" would be much better without the synth vocals, but it's not a terrible tune overall.
    ensifer1
    They're from my hometown, the lead singer always thought he was such hot shit even before they were signed. His attitude bugged me. Too bad their music doesn't compesate for it.
    Nollemaster
    I'm not into them at all but I heard Thunder at work today and I felt bad for the guitarist.
    yntebraaksma
    It sounds like pop to me, there are barely any rock elements at all.
    travislausch
    It is pop. I don't think you're going to get much dispute on that point. For me, the rock elements are in the format of this band. It's still very much a singer, bassist, guitarist, and drummer, even if all the sounds are very heavily manipulated in the studio and with effects. But for the most part, anything that's played on a guitar is easily identifiable as such.
    BjarnedeGraaf
    anything played on a guitar in a band setting is rock?  that's worth a discussion if you ask me... Rock is a genre,  not a bunch of people playing specific instruments.
    travislausch
    Here's the thing, I never say in the review that this is a "rock" record, but a pop group using rock instrumentation and aesthetics to create pop music. In terms of rocking out, they're no less so a rock band than Coldplay or the lighter stuff from U2 most of the time.  But like I said, I never said this was a pure rock album. This is clearly pop music.
    kramer242
    This is ultimate guitar not ultimate electronica..... Can we take imagine dingleberries elsewhere
    travislausch
    But... if there's guitar in the electronica...? Like, look at Polyphia. Their most recent stuff is hip-hop beats with shredding on it. Would you say they're not cut out for UG? 
    vppark2
    A 7/10 for this? Lmfao.
    travislausch
    Remember that my 7s are more like most folks' 5s or 6s. This record is terribly average, but as far as mainstream pop goes, I think of this as being fairly passable.
    masterraco
    Why this band has "rock" labeled on it, is beyond me.  Especially when I can't hear any solid guitar sound on some of the new songs.  It is there somewhere, appearently.  Same with Coldplay.  I have nothing against Imagine Dragons, they have some nice songs. But is seems more to be an electronic than a rock act when it comes to their studio sound. 
    travislausch
    Here's the thing, in my review, I make it very clear that this is a pop/rock record. That this is a band taking rock instrumentation and aesthetics and using it to make pop music. There's guitar all over the record, even if a lot of the times, it's buried in the mix or covered  with effects to make it sound like dubstep wobbles or whatever.  Interestingly, you'll hear way more of the guitar and way less of the electronic drums checking out their live stuff. That's actually what got me into the band in the first place, was hearing some of their songs that I thought were kind of "meh" on the radio in a live setting, after someone tried really hard to convince me that they were "totally a real band and not just some hip-hop producer and a millennial singer".
    masterraco
    I was not talking about the review, more as in: many people labels this band as a rock act.  And indeed, live their music is more focussed at the band than the electronic stuff.
    travislausch
    "many people labels this band as a rock act" Here's the thing though, look at all the different ways rock has evolved over the years. Do you think people in the 60s would call Guns n' Roses "rock" if you were to go back in time and show it to them? I often find a lot of the "this is/is not rock" and "rock is/is not dead" comments come from people who are interested in artists whose careers peaked decades ago. But every movement in rock music was a short-lived phenomenon meant to reflect the time period it was in. I resist the urge to call every decade of rock music a "fad", but I'm a firm believer that there's no such thing as "timeless" music. All music is a product of the era it was created in, or an homage to another era, and many artists go to great lengths to make it painfully obvious whether they're rooted in the current era or attempting to be a throwback to an era long passed. Imagine Dragons is a VERY "2010s" kind of band and everything about them from their sound to their visual imagery reflects that. And in a few years, this will pass and we'll be having this same argument about some other new style of music calling itself "rock". Whether Imagine Dragons is rock or not... that's not really up to me to decide. But I imagine there were plenty of rock fans that presented this exact same argument every time some new idea of what "rock" is swept the scene, whether it be The Beatles, Hendrix or punk or hair metal or grunge. Hell, there were people ready to declare rock "dead" in the late 1950s, before The Beatles blew up, and there was a lot of resistance to their popularity from people who just wanted to hear more Elvis Presley. It's almost like, if the majority of people call it rock, then it is rock, whether we like it or not, and it's always been this way, and will likely continue like that. Anyway, that's my $0.02 on the matter.