November 9, 2018
I would like to preface this by making it clear that this is just my opinion. If you like this album, that’s awesome! Enjoyment is all that matters. If you dislike it, that’s cool, too.
Earlier this week, the Las Vegas electropop/rock quartet, Imagine Dragons, released their highly anticipated fourth album. And oh boy is it boring.
"Origins" (which, in the context of the music, is a name as deliberately universal and bland as the script for a car commercial) follows the pattern that the band started on 2017’s "Evolve": being an incohesive conglomeration of boilerplate pop anthems with short breaks for weak ballads brimming with cliches and introspection as deep as a kiddy pool. It’s an album that feels like it was made for the corporate boardroom, and as such, half of the tracks will inevitably clog the sonic landscape of advertising for the next 8 months, just like “Thunder” and “Believer” did earlier this year.
The first four songs, “Natural,” “Boomerang,” “Machine,” and “Cool Out,” follow a single formula, the same one that spawned the aforementioned “Thunder” and “Believer” from their last album. That is, bare bones verses in which frontman Dan Reynolds delivers line after line of corny let’s-get-pumped mantras which crescendo into screamed, often one word choruses (I’m looking at you, booma-ooma-oomerang.) which go on for far too long atop a swell of unnecessary decibels. And while the complaint that most of Imagine Dragons’ songs are generic stadium sing alongs may not be a new one, it is certainly accurate in this case, especially for the first chunk of "Origins."
After this, things get a bit more subdued, but no more engaging. Tracks like “West Coast,” “Only,” “Stuck” and “Birds” blur together to make a largely forgettable back half to the album. However, there is one really great moment in the second half, the only moment during the whole album when I actually perked up with interest. After a brief acoustic intro, the drums on the song “Digital” launch into drill n bass mode, with a thick bassline reminiscent of Bjork’s “Army of Me” buzzing around them. Unfortunately, this lasts all of 12 seconds before the band returns to soundtracking the commercial for the next iphone.
By far though, the worst part of this record are its flacid attempts at social commentary. On the track, “Love,” Reynolds sings, “All the other races, other, other / Why couldn't you just be my brother, brother? / We don't have to kill one another, kill one another.” Now, I like the sentiment, but it’s just too starry eyed and surface level to take seriously-- and it takes itself very seriously. The album closes with more commentary on the final track, “Real Life,” which references tragedies like 9/11, the Boston bombing, mass shootings, etc. Reynolds tells the listener to tune out the all bad things in the world and just live “real life,” with all of the apathy of someone who doesn’t have to live in fear of the kinds of things to which he alludes. In both cases, his attempts at being current and conscious fall flat and feel downright out of place, shoehorned near the end of an album that is otherwise unconcerned with social issues.
The reason "Origins" gets on my nerves so much is that, despite what it may seem, I do like Imagine Dragons. I think that their first album was really good and that their second was good as well. In fact, I’d say that their song “Amsterdam,” off of "Night Visions," is in my top 300 favorite songs of all time (and I like a lot of music so that’s saying something). I’m not picking on them for the fun of it; I just hate to see a group with the ability to write great melodies and thoughtful lyrics waste their talent on lines like "Let me tell you what it's like to be a zero, zero.” While "Origins" is certainly another misstep for the band, it might not be fair to count them out just yet, so we’ll have to wait to see what they do next. I don’t know if they’ll go back to writing songs like “Amsterdam,” but here’s hoping.
not for me/10
Best (relatively speaking): Bullet From A Gun, Digital
Worst: Natural, Boomerang, Machine, West Coast, Zero, Love, Real Life