Atwood Magazine’s writers discuss Imagine Dragons’ third album Evolve and the roles that passion, energy, and honesty play in showcasing a brighter, more mature sound.
Featured here are Watts, Urooj Ali Rizvi, Natalie Harmsen, and Mitch Mosk
Do you believe Evolve strengthens Imagine Dragons’ repertoire? Why or why not?
Lawrence: I think Evolve does strengthen their repertoire because the sound is very different than their past albums. While they had pop hits, Night Visions and Smoke + Mirrors were both mainly filled with hard rock riffs and arena rock melodies. Evolve combines the catchy aspect with more alternative, pop-sounding melodies. The album is a new, cohesive sound and one that I think will be well-received by their loyal fan base.
Urooj: I do believe it strengthens their repertoire. Going in, I kept a few of their interview comments in mind about why this album sounds so different from Smoke + Mirrors, about where it’s coming from and what kind of music they’ve aimed at making. I think Evolve does become a representation of the band’s evolution and growth that keeps their identity intact but allows for the differences to filter through. For anybody really, I think Evolve can very easily be seen and understood as an album that is coming from a different headspace altogether. It has shifted from somewhere dismal, tough and self-doubting to somewhere brighter and more reassuring as if some footing has finally been found.
A lot of times what happens with a second or third album is that an artist seems to lose touch with who they are or what they’ve wanted to make but Imagine Dragons created some really peppy, soaring (powerful, even) tracks for our blessed summer mornings when things can be at their worst and the band has not lost track of who they are or what they want to create for us. I think the album is very true to the journey of the men behind it– men who have made sense of their suffering (individual and collective) and arrived at a point in their journey where they can really let go and soar, just as many of their songs do. It feels personal, it feels raw but in a logically constructed manner, it honestly feels like a testament to who they’ve become now and the journey that brought them to this point.
Passing note, I also noticed a lot of indie rock influence, where “Yesterday” sounded quite like something Bleachers may have created.
Natalie: I think Evolve showcases Imagine Dragons doing what they do best; creating uplifting rock anthems that manage to be explosive yet radio friendly. Evolve shows them becoming more experimental and having fun within the niche they have created for themselves.
Mitch: Imagine Dragons have always had multi-dimensionality in their artistry, and I think Evolve succeeds in exhibiting the best parts of this dynamic band – so yes, it definitely strengthens their repertoire. Not only does it find them pushing themselves farther than they have ever gone before, but also it holds our attention throughout with well-timed ups and downs, a melting pot of instrumentation and electronic exploitations, and stellar lyricism that shines through Reynolds’ emphatic delivery. Imagine Dragons already established themselves as an anthemic, heavy-hitting rock/pop band, so I enjoy the ways in which they have developed, expanded, and transformed their music on this record to really “go beyond” and, if one may be so bold, exceed expectations. Reynolds takes vocal risks; Wayne Sermon expands his work in guitar solo territory, while vamping and riffing sweet melodies throughout. Drummer Daniel Platzman – and truly, the entire band – employ electronic manipulations particularly well across the board. Pulsing rock anthems fit neatly next to sweet ballads and hip-hop-pop scenes; and of course, there’s this very obvious sense that Imagine Dragons are truly loving every moment of it.
Imagine Dragons hail Evolve as their “brightest” album yet. Does positivity shine through on this album, and if so, how?
Lawrence: Positivity does shine through on this album as there are numerous songs that come across as bright and uplifting. In the past, Imagine Dragons may have had only one or two bright songs but on Evolve, I counted at least four…arguably. “Whatever It Takes,” “Walking the Wire,” “Rise Up,” and “Start Over” are all clear summertime jams. It’s interesting to see the alternative band put out bright music as some of their top hits contain dark, heavy melodies (“Radioactive,” “I’m So Sorry”).
Natalie: Evolve is definitely the band’s most upbeat record. When you compare it to Smoke + Mirrors which I found to be really sad, and got swallowed up by that darkness, Evolve feels much more free. They are returning to the roots of Night Visions but doing so in a much more fun way.
Mitch: The juxtaposition between Smoke + Mirrors and Evolve could not be more apparent. I think more than anything, Evolve successfully expands the band’s arranging, production, and instrumentation skills whilst maintaining their delightfully catchy pop hooks. I absolutely love swaying to “Start Over” and “Yesterday” – they’re just so unlike anything I might have imagined Imagine Dragons creating 2-3 years ago. It’s as if the band threw away the formula, and truly waited for inspiration to strike. In doing so, they organically incorporated sounds, meaning, and feelings that come together in telling not just any story, but their story. Somehow, the struggle to maintain personal relationships that encompasses the apologetic song “I’ll Make It Up to You” feels lighter and freer than almost anything one can find on Smoke + Mirrors.
Call it positivity, call it comfort, call it brightness, call it an “evolution”… Whatever it is, Imagine Dragons are basking in the moment, and as listeners we get to soak up the warmth, ease, and passion that radiates from their new songs.
Urooj: I definitely think Evolve is a far brighter in terms of lyric, feeling and sound when compared to their previous work. I think this is also largely because of the personal journey of the band, where it has moved through the moments and times of suffering to come to a point where they can all look back and see their growth. I really, really think the album’s title is aptly chosen and reflects the honesty of the record itself. It truly harnesses the evolution of Imagine Dragons, who seem to come back bigger, brighter and better each time.
Tracks like “Walking the Wire” and “Rise Up” are packed with punches and “Thunder” is literally packed with them — you also have tracks that shift into softer territory, like “Levitate” and “Not Today,” adding to the textured album they’ve curated for us. Since Dan Reynolds mentioned minimalism as being one of the major components of the album, it’s important to note that there aren’t too many instruments or sounds involved — the music remains simple and in that, it is immensely powerful.
More than anything, the album captures the band’s evolution and it’s a step towards a brighter and bigger vision, best reflected by the powerful anthems of the album (see: “Thunder,” “Rise Up,” “Believer,” “Walking the Wire”).
What song stands out to you musically and which song is simply your favorite?
Lawrence: Musically, “Believer” is the song that stands out to me. The classic layering of lead singer, Dan Reynolds’ voice makes the tune a loud sing-along that will be played at sports arenas, party pre-games, long car rides, and locker rooms around the world. I think I counted 4 different vocal layers during the catchy chorus… amazing. All in all, my favorite song is “Walking the Wire” as it really shows the maturity of the band. It’s catchy, pop-ish, yet incredibly thoughtful and emotional.
Mitch: I think “Walking the Wire” and “I’ll Make It Up to You” are two of the best reflections of Imagine Dragons’ latest ‘iteration,’ so to speak. Both songs feel deceptively simple, capturing this incredible energy that connects the band’s “old” sound to the new, without sacrificing lyrics and depth. I thought the band’s last effort felt a bit tired at times, but these songs feel refreshed and renewed, bright-eyed and excited. I also love a good anthem, and Reynolds’ impassioned vocals often feel tailor-made for shout-out-loud choruses, but “Walking the Wire” takes that all to the next level. It’s just possessed, and the infection spreads quickly from band to audience.
Urooj: My favourite song is definitely “Walking the Wire.” It’s such a powerful song — it has this sense of furious hope and passion driving it that makes it stand out in this album. It’s about making this impossible thing happen, about walking a wire, about looking down and realizing the sheer beauty of things, about letting go of your fears and you can certainly sing along to it (even if it’s bad singing, because who can hit Dan’s notes, right?) It’s pretty simple musically, but it packs such a rush and so much power that it’s hard to resist it’s charm. You’ll be nodding to it in no time. It shines off the album, I swear. It also really reminded me of One Republic (generally) and specifically, their song “Say All I Need,” with its soaring chorus and that feeling of reassurance. I’ll be re-replaying this song all week.
In terms of music, I was very impressed with the composition of ‘Rise Up’ that builds itself into another powerful chorus, with an atmosphere slightly different from Walking the Wire. Dan’s vocals stretch over the music and into the silence, I can almost feel all of the things the band’s been through to get here. The guitar’s intro reminded me a lot of The Script’s music. I quite like the beat and the simplicity of the sound– there aren’t too many elements here. The emphasis on Dan’s voice in the pre-chorus makes for the perfect entry for the chorus. The bridge is a beautiful surprise, the drums are withdrawn and we’re given a very dreamy set that only adds to the chorus.
From the first time that I heard ‘Thunder’, I was hooked. The pitching of the vocals, the layed-back beat and the punching-sort-of-noise that jumps into the chorus makes it for a very smooth and enjoyable listen. I like the chord progression through the chorus also, from something light and easy to something slightly heavier sounding. The electric guitar in the bridge makes way for a great, resounding choric “Thunder” as the song reaches it’s final peak. You’ll be singing along to this in no time– the perfect anthem for the non-conforming thunderkids. I love, love, love the electric guitar drawing the song to a close- so beautifully made.
Natalie: I really really like “I’ll Make It Up To You” partly because it has a real 80s vibe that is really unusual for Imagine Dragons, and because the chorus is so catchy. It was so unexpected to hear such a synth-heavy song from them but I really love it. It’s retro in the best way.
Do you have a favorite set of lyrics?
Lawrence: Musically, “Believer” is the song that stands out to me. The classic layering of lead singer, Dan Reynolds’ voice makes the tune a loud sing-along that will be played at sports arenas, party pre-games, long car rides, and locker rooms around the world. I think I counted 4 different vocal layers during the catchy chorus…amazing. All in all, my favorite song is “Walking the Wire” as it really shows the maturity of the band. It’s catchy, pop-ish, yet incredibly thoughtful and emotional.
There’s nights we had to just walk away
And there’s tears we’ll cry, but those tears will fade
It’s a price we pay when it comes to love
And we’ll take what comes, take what comes
– “Walking the Wire”
Urooj: You can trust Imagine Dragons to write some really lovely songs and they certainly deliver on this record. I’ve picked out a few of my favourite lyrics. I’ll probably get more as I listen to the songs again:
Like a prayer that only needs a reason
Like a hunter waiting for the season
I was there, but I was always leaving
I believe it, but I was never breathing
The more I stray, the less I fear
And the more I reach, the more I fade away
Darkness right in front of me
Oh, it’s calling out, and I won’t walk away.
– “Rise Up”
Natalie: I like “I was lighting before the thunder” just because it feels very grandiose and impactful.
Mitch: I love what’s already been said, and to be honest new excepts catch my ear upon every successive listen. However, two songs continue to stand out for me, and they just happy to be the album’s first two tracks. “I Don’t Know Why” is the perfect album opener for Evolve; and its introductory lyrics, layered with potential and bursting with emotion, seem to set the scene for everything that’s to come. They open up the album, inviting us to consider ourselves in Reynolds’ place, stepping into his shoes to experience those intimate moments for ourselves:
We could be strangers in the night
We could be passing in the shadows
We couldn’t be closer if we tried
When we’re caught in the headlights
We could be faces in the crowd
We could be passing in the shadows
Loving the risk of being found
When we’re caught in the headlights
Two passages stand out for me on the rip-roaring rap anthem that is “Whatever It Takes.” Reynolds’ lines are quick and biting, clever and forever propulsive – moving everything forward, musically and thematically. The second verse is absolutely beautiful in the way it opens up so directly. Passion pours our of Reynolds lines, both there and in the song’s brooding breakdown. I love these stanzas for their honesty, their melodic application of rhythm, and for their sheer gravity.
Always had a fear of being typical
Looking at my body feeling miserable
Always hanging on to the visual
I wanna be invisible
Looking at my years like a martyrdom
Everybody needs to be a part of ’em
Never be enough, I’m the prodigal son
I was born to run, I was born for this
Don’t wanna be the parenthetical, hypothetical
Working onto something that I’m proud of, out of the box
An epoxy to the world and the vision we’ve lost
I’m an apostrophe
I’m just a symbol to remind you that there’s more to see
I’m just a product of the system, a catastrophe
And yet a masterpiece, and yet I’m half-diseased
And when I am deceased
At least I go down to the grave and die happily
Leave the body of my soul to be a part of me
I do what it takes
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