Imagine Dragons delivers strong, not flawless, Origins

Courtesy of KIDinaKORNER / Polydor/ Interscope Records
Imagine Dragons released Origins on Nov. 9, as regular and “deluxe” albums.

Griffin Sendek | Staff Writer

11/15/18

Imagine Dragons continues to spoil their fans with more new music through their fourth studio album, Origins, a little over one year since the release of 2017’s Evolve. This new release marks the fourth brand-new album in the band’s six-year history.

I was a huge fan of Imagine Dragons’ debut album, Night Visions (2012), and I loved their sophomore saga — Smoke + Mirrors (2014). Evolve (2017), on the other hand, left me disappointed. I, for the most part, lost interest in Imagine Dragons; my excitement for their next release was almost nonexistent.

I’m delighted to say that Origins, while not perfect, far surpassed my expectations.

Origins delivers something new and different for the band, and at the same time manages not to stray too far from the style and sound that fans know and love.

Origins begins on a strong note, kicking off the record with a heavy hitter — “Natural.” Those familiar with the band will be no stranger to lead singer Dan Reynolds’ trademark booming vocals, which are in full fledge with “Natural.” Apart from being an overall fun song, “Natural” sets up the tone and theme for the rest of the album.

Imagine Dragons’ songs have always had their gloomier moments, but never before in the band’s history has an entire album followed such a mellowed, somber tone.

The songs on Origins undoubtedly depict someone going through a hard breakup. It is evident that Reynolds’ recent divorce had a substantial effect on his songwriting process.

Taking a closer look at the even more upbeat songs of Origins, such as the excellent “Boomerang” or “Zero,” you’ll find hard-hitting messages such as not being able to let go of somebody and feeling worthless.

Compared to Imagine Dragons’ previous work, this melancholy tone is the most significant change that Origins provides, and I am all for it.

Number four on the tracklist “Cool Out” has a slower pace, somber theme and is underscored with mellow beats, but it doesn’t bog you down with its overall depressive atmosphere. “Cool Out” also houses my favorite pre-chorus interlude of Origins:

“Standin’ on your front porch, sayin’ Don’t let go / You were lookin’ at me wild, sayin’ Just go home.’”

Two more standouts on the album are “Bad Liar” and “West Coast.” “Bad Liar” is a pure outcry of emotion that translates almost perfectly into the music. The song is not overly complicated, comprising of synthesizer highlighting the verses before dropping into a series of beats for the chorus. I don’t often listen to a song for the very first time and immediately imagine an entire concert hall singing the words in unison, but for “Bad Liar,” the image was clear as day.

“West Coast” stands out among the rest due to the fact it is entirely acoustic. For a band that produces solely high-strung alternative rock, the calming sound of an acoustic guitar is a pleasant change. The subdued instrumentals allow for Reynolds’ vocal prowess to shine. Not the mention that “West Coast” holds one of the catchiest choruses of the album.

It isn’t all sunshine and daisies though; Origins is far from perfect. In a 15-song album produced in a little over a single year, there are bound to be a few duds.

The latter half of Origins simply doesn’t hold up to the strength of the first half. “Bullet In a Gun,” “Digital” and “Only” all hark back to the loathsome style of 2017’s Evolve.

“Bullet In a Gun” is the most promising of the three, but ultimately falls short and does nothing special. “Only” starts strong but devolves into a generic pop song with a message that has been redone many times before. Finally, the worst offender by far, and my least favorite track on Origins: “Digital,” which has a decent chorus surrounded by a horrible cacophony of incoherent electronic beats.

Had these songs been on their own I might have viewed them a little more favorably, but they clearly do not follow the tone of Origins and felt very much out of place in the album.

The next four songs — “Stuck,” “Love,” “Birds” and “Burn Out” — all tackle different aspects and stages of love in relationships.

“Stuck” returns the album to the somber feel. The song’s message about being unable to move on from someone is clear and easy to understand, packaged together in an overall decent song that fits nicely within Origins. “Love” utilizes background vocals in a style similar to stage choirs, creating a song with a lot of heart. “Birds” raises the mood with a more hopeful and slightly happier spirit, before bringing everything back down with “Burn Out.” All are good songs on their own merits, but, in the grand scheme of the album, are ultimately forgettable.

Closing the album, with a more profound message than I ever expected from Imagine Dragons, is “Real Life.” The song touches on the idea that the world is full of awful things that you’ll never be able to stop, but you can’t let it get the best of you; you still need to live your life. An Imagine Dragons song mentioning the 9/11 attacks and the Boston Marathon bombing is among one of the last things I expected. “Real Life” is reminiscent of the sound and feel of album opener “Natural,” taking Origins full circle.

Going into Origins, I was expecting a relatively basic alternative-rock album that was to be good but at the end of the day unexceptional. Origins surprised me more than I ever expected; the album has its flaws, of course, but when its songs are good, they’re firing on all cylinders.

Origins reminded me why I like Imagine Dragons in the first place. I strongly recommend giving it a listen.

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