It’s been a while since Imagine Dragons could be considered a legitimate rock band. Once an okay band by radio rock standards whose heart they put in their songs could not be denied, they have made next to no progression as an act. They haven’t quite reached the point of Maroon 5, who are only a band in name, but Origins proves that Imagine Dragons may be on the same path.
The (Not-So) Good…
“Thunder,” the biggest hit from the band’s previous album, Evolve, and one of the most gutless songs they have ever released, seems to have inspired a lot of the more synthetic songs on Origins. Songs like “Boomerang,” “Cool Out,” and “Bad Liar” share the lukewarm, blasé vibe of “Thunder” that would make absolutely no impression if it weren’t for Dan Reynolds’ gravely, strained vocals, shaky falsettos, and obnoxious choruses that tarnished what atmosphere the songs had going for them. “Only,” the other main electro-pop track of the record just sounds like a Chainsmokers song, which is something no artist should aim to sound like.
Out of the three categories of songs that populate Origins, these songs, while not something that could be considered quality, are the least offensive. The lyrics on many of these tracks concern Reynolds’ relationship and divorce of his ex-wife, Aja Volkman (though the two have claimed they are back together as of this November). While the lyrics are not exactly the most thought-provoking or pull many heartstrings, it is here that the most heart is shown from Reynolds; he also manages to tackle their relationship in a variety of ways.
The second category seems to call back to the other big song off of Evolve: “Believer.” These tracks are the overblown, over-compressed radio rock ragers that are the reason why Imagine Dragons can still be considered a rock band. However, for a rock band, it seems like this type of overwrought, lumbering slush like “Natural” and “Machine” is one of the only rock songs they can make nowadays, aside from a few choice examples that will be addressed later. “Natural,” the lead single of the record, is the better of the two when it comes to songwriting, but it still feels just a slight variation on the formula that brought the world songs like “Believer” and “I Bet My Life.” The only thing that separates these tracks are their political themes, especially on “Machine.” But as revolutionary as the band tries to come off as on this track, it’s hard to take it seriously when they try to make petitioning sound badass, and also when they have a song made for Ralph Breaks the Internet only a few tracks later on the record. It’s a messy attempt at trying to say something bold; something that seems to have come from a real place considering Reynolds’ history of LGBT activism, but it does not translate well at all.
And the Ugly…
Finally, the last category, and the most perplexing one, features four songs that are all back to back. These songs feature Imagine Dragons delivering material that could be seen as outside of their comfort zone. It’s unfortunate that, for the most part, these are some of the worst tracks on the album. The first of the four is “West Coast,” a horrifically bland, repetitive throwback to the trite pop folk of the early 2010s à la Mumford & Sons. “Zero” may be a rather basic take on new wave, but it’s high tempo and bouncy demeanor makes for one of the few times Origins is any fun.
It’s the following two tracks of this quartet that bring Origins to its lowest point. “Bullet In A Gun,” which I can only guess is their attempt at hip hop on this record, is a confused mess of hi-hats, unsavory vocal manipulations, and a bridge that makes for one of the most embarrassing moments on the record. It is only bested by “Digital.” This track is not only plagued by ugly breakbeat percussion and brostep-tinged folk pre-choruses, but it has an annoyingly repetitive chorus and a generally awkward song structure. The compression on this track is so bad that it would not be a surprise if the Loudness War restarted because of this track. It makes “Bullet In A Gun” seem passable, which is quite the accomplishment.
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