MUSIC: Review: Imagine Dragons, "Imagine Dragons (EP)"

Written by Scott Manning on . Posted in Music

We haven’t done a ton of album reviews yet here at Rhombus, so we’re still throwing different things at the wall to see what sticks. For Imagine Dragons’ self-titled EP, we decided to have two of our contributors, Scott Manning and William Sutton, offer their thoughts on the disc, in order to provide you with a variety of perspectives. If you think you like what you’re reading, you can learn more about Imagine Dragons at their Web site or Myspace. You can also check them out here in Provo next Friday when they play at Velour’s Cowboys and Indies 4, which should be (as per usual) a rocking good time. As always, thanks for reading, and enjoy. — Steve Pierce, editor

Imagine Dragons (EP)

Imagine Dragons (EP)

My first immersion into the world of Imagine Dragons came in early January of this year. While walking home from my Thursday classes, I spied a small ad for their show hanging on a pole and grabbed it for a better look. All it said was, “Imagine Dragons: Sometimes you mustache yourself…” with a date and time.

I had no idea what the heck it was, whether it was some sort of neo-bohemian play or a Chester-the-Molester club meeting.  I could not live without knowing what activity had rendered such an advertisement, so I grabbed a date and (hoping both conjectures were wrong) went to Velour — and was not disappointed in the least. I continued going to Imagine Dragons concerts as often as they occurred and, though I was a little wary of the massive amounts of people with mustaches at the shows (even girls). I grew fond of the band.

Well, this is not the same Imagine Dragons I once knew.  Not at all.

Sometime during the course of the summer, frontman Dan Reynolds “got the hell out of Dodge” and moved back to his hometown of Sin City, Nev., leaving behind three original band members and picking up three more along the way. In previous reviews of the band, they were considered to be a more poppy version of The Killers (to whom Reynolds holds a certain affiliation, as his older brother is their manager) and, despite the lineup changes, they still hold that title strong.

From the very first track, “I Need a Minute,” it is evident that Reynolds’ songwriting has taken a more serious turn than his previous work. It features a great mix of guitar, vocals and keys for an almost throwback-to-the-’80s feel and, despite having a somewhat cliché bass line, it makes up for it with general catchiness. It’s certainly a good one to have as the first thing record execs will hear.

As I listened to the rest of the EP, I started to get picky, hearing things that didn’t impress me as much as I hoped they would. The following song, “Uptight,” hits hard in its minor key and, though it would probably kick butt live, it almost sounds like a techno remix. This wouldn’t be bad for those who like techno; unfortunately, I’m not into it and I would love to hear a less electro-heavy version (but still keeping the super-funky bass line completely intact.)

There are times where it feels like Reynolds’ vibrato is invading the pop-laden style, sneaking into parts of songs where it appears a bit much. “Drive,” the final track on the album, sounds like it belongs at the ending scene of an ’80s teen movie rather than with the rest of the EP. But with those complaints out of the way, I would like to say the third track, “Cover Up,” is something of a masterpiece. Super-catchy bass, guitar and vocal riffs all combine into a hodgepodge of pop-rock glory. I can see this song being their fleet leader for many shows to come.

All in all, the revamped and redesigned Imagine Dragons have brought together a sound that the general public can listen to and enjoy. There are some things I’d love to see change, and I’m always a fan of a more grassroots sound but, for its style, I think the EP works just fine.  These guys can go ahead and quit their day jobs (if they haven’t already). I give my stamp of approval.

Scott Manning is a music correspondent for Rhombus.

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The bands for which we usually reserve the highest praise are those that are somehow able to create music that is (or at least seems) uniquely their own. These are the bands that stay relevant over the years, not only culturally, but also on our personal playlists. Think about it. From the Beatles to U2 and from Dylan to Radiohead, the most notable bands seem to create their own parameters rather than playing by someone else’s. Thus stated, if a band can immediately be likened to another band, it may not spell doom, but it is certainly not tops on the wish list. In the case of Las Vegas locals and Provo part-timers Imagine Dragons’ self-titled EP, that is too often the case.

While I don’t think Imagine Dragons would say they are aspiring to be part of the pantheon of artists mentioned above, there is something to be said for having your own sound and style, even in smaller circles. After listening to the group’s self-titled EP, I feel Imagine Dragons have a lot of potential, but I certainly wouldn’t say they have found their own musical niche. I had heard considerable buzz about the group before ever listening to them — much of it linking them with their more famous desert-dwelling neighbors, the Killers — and, after some exposure to the group, it is easy to see why the comparison if often made.

The following is my attempt at a concise, song-by-song review of the EP:

1. “I Need A Minute” — A Killers-esque guitar riff and an upbeat, dancey chorus. Make that an infectious chorus. A little heavy on the sugar maybe, but way to bring the hand claps and background sho-bop-bopping. Also, was that a Neal Schon guitar riff going out of the bridge? I think it was. (Big ups to Journey.)

2. “Uptight” — My first impression during the intro of this song was, “This is the money that I could be saving with Geico!” Needless to say, this one is a bit more electronic. It kind of has a surging ’80s vibe, but lacks lyrical complexity (if that’s your thing.) The whole “pop-rock electronic fun dance” thing is all the rage these days, and the boys (and girl) do it reasonably well here. This song also features some great-sounding heavier guitar work towards the end.

3. “Cover Up” — Although this song starts out sounding kind of like the intro to Chariots of Fire sped up (by, like, 5,000), it soon becomes evident that it is the best offering on the album — balanced musicianship, the most compelling vocals (lead and backing) and the most memorable lyrics. From the soaring ooh-ooh bridge vocals to the triumphant, thumping choruses, it is the highlight of the album.

4. “Curse” — Well-constructed instrumental and vocal interplay, but you can really hear the Killers’ influence here. Not that it can’t work, because they absolutely nail what they were going for, but I am reminded of my mid-adolescence when finding out there were other bands that sounded exactly like blink-182 was an exciting prospect. Then it wasn’t. The music sounds fine here, but it doesn’t stand out.

5. “Drive” — The obligatory “slow it down, soft lyrics” outro number. Dan Reynolds’ refrains of “Hold on” sound disturbingly like The Fray and, in this author’s opinion, that’s never a good thing. Wonderful backing vocals though.

The verdict — Imagine Dragons find themselves in what I call “pop purgatory.” This is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can often translate into popularity and, in that sense, success. But, as the name implies, the band’s creative identity is not clearly defined enough to mean much artistically at this point. Their music is not creative enough to be distinctive (the effusive Killers references), not quite peppy enough to be wholly danceable, and not weird or tortured enough to be indie-alternative — but it is just enough of all those things to be a big deal. A solid and promising first effort.

William Sutton is a new face at Rhombus and, though he loves music, Imagine Dragons is not his cup of tea. Not that he drinks tea. Then again, this is such a hip website that maybe he does. Imported.

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