I haven’t loved an Imagine Dragons album in a very long time. Night Visions—the alternative band’s 2012 debut album—is one of my favorite records of all time. It is a beautiful work, not for its radio-ruling hits like “Radioactive” and “Demons,” but for the deep tracks: “Hear Me;” “Bleeding Out;” “Amsterdam,” etc., etc.
The albums that have followed that explosive debut just haven’t done it for me. Both Smoke + Mirrors and Evolve have a handful of amazing songs, but as albums, I never really cared for them. And I likewise could never really get into Origins.
Every time a new record has been announced, I’ve hoped it would pull on some of the sonic elements that made their first record so great. And every time, I’ve been largely disappointed. So my expectations for Mercury – Act 1 were pretty low, especially after the dropping of the singles “Follow You” and “Cutthroat.”
“Follow You” was nothing special, and “Cutthroat” is just difficult to listen to, though I can respect the intention behind it.
But when I clicked ‘play’ on this latest record, I was pretty quickly blown away by that first track.
“My Life” is undoubtedly one of the best songs the band has ever released. It is incredibly dynamic and haunting, with slower, subtler verses heralded by an eighth-note melody coming from what sounds like finger-picked violins. And the keys that Dan Reynolds slips into adds to this haunting sense that pervades the verse and the pre-chorus.
The way this song builds is something extraordinary. The way the layers come together, with lines of strings and synth and piano, and the way Reynolds’ voice builds into the chorus is something that is truly stunning. And lyrically, there is a beautiful rawness and honesty to “My Life”—‘These years pass by and we’re growing older / And I think of you, all we’ve made it through / Some have passed away, some have moved on / But I’m still here today.’
A beautiful line that leads into an utterly breathtaking moment in the track—an instrumental fill that heavily reminds me of U2 in the rapid guitar break which leads into that heavily melodic solo, which in turn leads to a more built-up, even more powerful repeat of the chorus.
It’s a stunning song and a smart way to start off the record. This song deserves to be the first track; it’s a magnet for the rest of the record; a gateway; an arch that beckons you forward and gives you an inkling of the dynamic emotional experience you are walking into.
And Dan Reynolds’ voice is beyond words or description. It’s like an antique Gibson Les Paul guitar—weathered and soulful, built with a beautiful natural tone and exceptional range, tone that is easily susceptible to extreme gain and grunge if plugged into the right amp.
This is a record that, more than any other Imagine Dragons record, features Dan Reynolds’ voice in a whole new way.
Throughout the record, he plays in falsettos and whispers; natural, comforting tones and grungy, painful screams and agonizing—though melodic—shouts and calls. His voice is the most important instrument in this record, and it is treated with a clear kind of forethought and care.
It is a storied album, one of darkness and pain; an expression of insecurity. But it is gilded with light and hope that persists despite the expelling of such potent pain. And in the expression of this pain, Reynolds’ voice brings the record to a very high level. He is more than a singer, and on this record, he does far more than simply convey words. He adds texture and spirit to them; he brings a lyric sheet to life, creating this complete world, the all-inclusive, immersive environment that is Mercury – Act 1.
“Easy Come Easy Go” is a song, like much of the album, that is bursting to the brim with raw emotion. It is a song that is exceptionally focused on the lyrics—the instrumentation is sparse and subtle, letting the words, the horror of this story, shine through.
‘We were there for the ups and downs and there for the constant rounds of chemo / Yeah, you know that you are our hero / You were there when I was a zero / And I swear I’ll make things right before the long night.’
Beautiful and painful and simplistic, made even more so by the slight rhythmic change at this point in the song, where he dips into a more choppy, almost rap-like style of singing. Again, it is a beautiful way to convey the emotion, to convey the pain that exists in those words.
“Dull Knives” is heavy and, at times, hard to listen to. The subtlety of the verses builds to a truly wild chorus resplendent with grungy guitars, heavy drums and vocals that would not be out of place at an underground metal concert.
And though I don’t love listening to the song, I can admire the artistry that exists within it. The grungy, heavy choruses act as a visceral expression of the pain of being cut by dull blades. In these choruses, Reynolds is neither a singer nor a performer; he is a conduit for slow, extreme pain—and he is screaming in pain.
But through all of this real, vivid pain comes the final two tracks on this album. “No Time For Toxic People” and “One Day.” These two tracks are the light at the end of the tunnel; they are the breath of relief, a moment of peace and purity after this dramatic, intense expulsion of grief.
“No Time For Toxic People” is simple and filled with a joyous sound. This track is not a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows—it stays at one high level throughout.
‘Take a really good look, it’s a beautiful day / Yeah it’s a beautiful day / I’m gonna keep it that way.’
It’s a healthy moment; a decision to look beyond the pain that is one of the few truths to life and find joy, rather than waiting for happiness to find you; a sentiment that I wholeheartedly enjoy.
And likewise, “One Day” is a simple, happy prayer; a future hope. It has a fun, light-hearted rhythm to it, and the lyrics are beautiful in their simple hopes, especially coming out of the intensity of the album.
‘One day / I’ll be that one thing / That makes you happy.’
It is a fitting thing for an album that began with beauty to end with it.
Mercury Act-1 is one of the most dynamic records I have ever listened to—the journey you go on through a full start-to-finish listen is a powerful one. It is a roller-coaster ride of sharp turns, sudden dips and slow climbs; long stretches of darkness and then slight bars of light.
Its pacing is thoughtful and well-executed; it keeps you on tenterhooks; it keeps you listening; and it leaves you in a light, happy place, a decision that reinforces the themes of this record which are to simply let go and find your hope and your happiness.
The only thing that keeps it from being a 10 is “Cutthroat” and “Giants”—heavy, dark grunge songs that are just too difficult to listen to, and so are really difficult for me to enjoy.
But as a record, though I may not love the entire thing, Mercury Act-1 is a real work of art. It is powerful and poignant, explosive and intense and dramatic; a true and important story tied into a simple collection of music.