People aren’t going to call this new Imagine Dragons album selling out, but they also aren’t going to categorize this as “real rock” either. You can’t make anyone happy nowadays. For the band’s third studio album Evolve, Dan Reynolds and company continue to create rock ballads that somehow turn into radio hits. I think that notion occurs on this project more than the last one. Instead of raw instrumentals, Imagine Dragons uses electronics in a more tasteful manner, and they tweak their sound just a little bit more than usual on this record (that’s right Linkin’ Park, you’re not the only one).
I enjoyed the way the album title described the band’s state in music right now. Much like any other artist, Imagine Dragons feels like they can evolve their sound even if it’s only a tiny bit noticeable. They sound a lot more optimistic on this project compared to their previous LPs, notably Night Visions. It’s all summer fun, and for me at least, Imagine Dragons actually comes through with a satisfying experience.
Unlike Smoke + Mirrors, Evolve is much more focused, and it never tries to be anything enormous. What made their previous album so unlistenable was the fact that it was so fucking long, and the group felt the need to try and become this hard rock n’ roll band.
I have to congratulate Imagine Dragons for actually following the blueprint of what makes a decent summer album. Short, sweet, to the point, and less than forty-five minutes long.
On this project, they’re back to their pop/rock roots with radio hits like, “Believer,” “Thunder,” and “Whatever it Takes.” “Whatever it takes” especially sounds like a song you’d play in an inspiring sports montage. While those three tracks lack an inventive hook, at least the electronic instrumentals and the elevating vocals of Dan Reynolds are on point.
But it’s the songs that are hidden in the middle of this project that really stand out for me personally. Although Evolve lacks the humongous hit singles like “Radioactive” or “Demons,” I think that this third LP has more admirable songs than Night Visions ever thought of having. Hidden gems like “Walking the Wire” and “Yesterday” have that present-day alternative sound that caught more of my attention than I would have imagined. The blend of an electronic piano and a nice guitar riff in the middle of the latter song adds layers that I otherwise would have never thought Imagine Dragons was capable of pulling off in their music.
While at times a few of these singles contained repetitiveness when it came to tempo, the sweetness and charm encompassed in “I’ll Make it Up to You” and “Dancing in the Dark” hid that flaw. Nonetheless, at times the instrumentals did stagnate the album especially on “Rise Up.” The track “Start Over” has this Caribbean vibe to it where the incorporation of a flute instrumental makes up for the otherwise lackluster lazy hook Reynolds throws on this song. So there’s kind of a negative and a positive that cancels each other out.
Even at it’s weaker points though, I still found this album much more listenable than Smoke + Mirrors. I’ve always enjoyed Reynolds’ ability to start off a song with subtle toned down vocals, and then as the track progresses, he hits you with these rigid instruments where he showcases how high his voice can really get. That’s about the only thing that didn’t change on Evolve.
The biggest plus to this project has to be how surprisingly decent it was. I was thinking of not even bothering to listen to it because of how underwhelming their previous work eventually became. While their sound has definitely evolved over the years, I still feel like the band has been able to stick to its roots and ignore people who label this as “fake rock.” The genre has continuously changed over the years, and so has the interpretation of what rock n’ roll is. So it’s unfair to hate on Imagine Dragons for their musical style.
In the end, Reynolds and co. have gotten me interested in what’s next for them. Evolve did indeed exceed my expectations (though they were very low), and for that, I give them credit. But for now, let’s stop complaining, and enjoy this satisfying summer project that Imagine Dragons has laid out for us.