Think of Imagine Dragons and the phrase ‘doing massive numbers’ comes to mind. When the Las Vegas band released their last record ‘Origins’ in 2018 they were officially Spotify’s most listened-to group, and based on sales and streams, they’re one of the most wildly successful bands of the 2010s. Teaming up with enigmatic producer Rick Rubin for their fifth album ‘Mercury – Act 1’, they now find themselves releasing music in a brand new decade. The question is, having dominated the previous one, do they have anything new to offer it?
Often, listening to ‘Mercury – Act 1’ feels like navigating a torrential downpour of spaghetti being flung at the wall; from cider advert soundtrack vibes to ‘Cutthroat”s thoroughly unconvincing attempt at screamo. The beaming ‘No Time For Toxic People’ tries its hand at ‘Lover’-era Taylor Swift, but stumbles over unclear imagery. “Your heart is frozen over,” frontman Dan Reynolds sings, “I’m a four-leaf clovеr”.
In writing ‘Dull Knives’, Imagine Dragons presumably went into the studio intent on writing their very own ‘The Black Parade’ – and while Reynolds’ exposed, raw vocal shows a less polished side to the frontman at times, the song lacks all of emo’s knowing theatrical flourish. When he hits full-pelt, it feels flat – not even a gratuitously yowling guitar solo can yank it back. Leaping between all of these disparate sounds, cohesion is clearly not a focus here.
It’s a pity because lyrically Reynolds writes some of the most honest lines of his career. Written following the pain of losing his sister-in-law to cancer, ‘Wrecked’ combines Imagine Dragons’ ear for a juggernaut anthem with raw grief. And ‘Easy Come Easy Go’ charts supporting a loved one through gruelling treatment. “We were there for the ups and downs and there for the constant rounds of chemo,” Reynolds sings, with no embellishment needed.
Often though, these moments of intense vulnerability are overshadowed by more universal platitudes. The album’s biggest single ‘Follow Me’ is relentlessly catchy, and accordingly, has been streamed over 153million times on Spotify. Produced by Joel Little (Taylor Swift, Lorde), Reynolds utilises his own version of the triplet flow favoured by countless contemporary rappers – from Cardi B to Drake – atop a thumping beat.
It’s also the best track here, and a demonstration of what Imagine Dragons do best – penning stadium-ready anthems with fist-clenching emotional heft. The song is apparently inspired by a “life-changing” text from Reynolds’ wife as he was on his way to finalise their divorce, which indirectly led to them getting back together. It’s a shame that there’s little sense of digging further into that pivotal moment.
Underpinned by a squelching bass-line, Reynolds affects a strange, snarling delivery on the album’s raunchiest number ‘Monday’ – apparently a tribute to Prince, and nicking doubled-up vocals and grinding pop straight from the playbook of Perfume Genius, Christine and The Queens and the other innovative pop artists refreshing ‘80s sounds. While those acts couple their bright, gleaming synth lines with darker, sexually charged undertones to gripping effect, Imagine Dragons opt for the disarmingly chipper.
Their interpretation feels somewhat soulless.“You are my Monday, you’re the best day of the week,” Reynolds croons with saccharine falsetto, “so underrated and a brand new start”. Nothing says sexy, after all, like dragging your hollow husk of a body into an open-plan office and dodging your fellow commuters’ potent coffee breath. Elsewhere, the frontman sings of keeping going “’til the midnight hour” (well, they do have work in the morning) and turning the dial up “when you’re face to the floor”. What’s he up to here, bleeding a radiator?
By the end, you’re left wishing that Imagine Dragons had kept a closer focus on some of ‘Mercury – Act 1”s more powerful moments, and fully unpacked the feelings that songs like ‘Wrecked’ and ‘They Don’t Know You Like I Do’ dig into. As it stands, it feels like a scattershot record that has lost its way; cynically, you have to wonder if the sheer amount of jarring genres on offer have been concocted with those ever-present numbers in mind.
Release date: September 3