— -- intro: This week Imagine Dragons hope to capture magic a second time with their sophomore effort, The Juliana Hatfield Three reunite to record their second album in 22 years, the B-52s’ Kate Pierson goes solo for the first time, French-Cuban act Ibeyi bring forth a Latin and African-influenced brand of worldly electro-tinged music, Swedish singer-songwriter José González drops his first solo album in eight years and Brooklyn noise rockers A Place To Bury Strangers playfully aim to drill your speakers with dense layers of sound. The year is picking up and we have a lot of winners this week. There are plenty of albums here to add to your list.
quicklist: 1title: Imagine Dragons’ “Smoke + Mirrors” **text: Las Vegas’ Imagine Dragons made a big splash with their first record, “Night Visions.” It was a formulaic pop-rock record but it still had clear winners in the singles “Radioactive” and “It’s Time,” even if the latter got the forced anthemic formula down to such a science that one could argue that it may actually have been slightly ripped off by American Authors’ “Best Day Of My Life” a year or so later.
“Smoke + Mirrors” finds the band confused in the face of fame. It’s obviously a critical moment in their career. They got the attention of the masses once. Can they get it again? The answer is complicated, but ultimately … er…probably. “Smoke + Mirrors” is a bit of a mess of a record and a bit faceless even compared to the basic pop of “Night Visions.” The band may have had hits, but they don’t sound unique in an ear-catching way. This still sounds like formula. “Shots” for instance sounds like an odd hybrid between the falsetto funk of Maroon 5 and the arena-rock anthems of Coldplay delivered in a gospel-chorus kind of way. The band tries to add elements of hip-hop and electro production on “Gold,” but the authoritative nature of that track doesn’t sound authentic or all that interesting.
The title-track sounds again like Coldplay. It sounds like a B-side off of “Mylo Xyloto.” Vocalist Dan Reynolds doesn’t hide his aspirations to be the American equivalent to Chris Martin and it ultimately makes him sound like an imitator and not like his own man. “It Comes Back To You” also seems very Coldplay-esque.
On the flipside, the forced bar-stomp on the bluesy “I’m So Sorry” is drowned in digital crunch and the Eastern-tinged pounding of “Friction” suffers the same over-zealous production. Although, on second thought, the latter probably has a chance to become the entrance music for a boxer or wrestler when it kicks in.
This album is a disappointment, but it does come through on a few of the ballads or slow-building tracks, but the best tracks are hidden as deep cuts. This shameless pop angling may ultimately work for the band since people like to get more of things that remind them of other things they have heard, but critically speaking this album doesn’t help the band cement their own legacy. Even if this album sells well, artistically and creatively it is a resounding “sophomore slump.” This is the sound of an aimless band trying on hats, hoping something will stick. There may be sonic eclecticism but there’s very little experimentation going on. This is the sound of bland, American rock at its least creative.
“Polaroid” Yes, the slow boom/clap rhythm is straight out of a pop radio playbook, but melodically this is the best song on the album and it goes the most interesting places, even if its “I’m a midnight talker…” lyrics bring to mind a better song by the Steve Miller Band.
“I Bet My Life” The looped scream in the background can get pretty annoying, but this is still among the best songs on here. (This is one of the album’s singles and should do well.) Again, this is a highly formulaic radio-ready ballad, but it still has a slightly winning quality.
“Summer” There’s a vaguely eighties-esque new-wave tension going on here in this track’s bouncing rhythm. It has a swagger and a swing that is different than the rest of the record and thusly it stands out.