In releasing a record titled Evolve, it would seem obvious that Imagine Dragons are looking for progress as a band. The only problem is, the Las Vegas rockers’ third record sounds at its best when the group celebrate their former glories.
As an outfit who’ve already left their calling card in the bank in the form of worldwide hit single Radioactive, they can afford to take a gamble, and Evolve certainly is one, even if the evolution we hear is far from linear. While the addition of synths is the big headline, there are also diversions into RnB and soul. It all adds up to rather an odd mix.
The record starts strong with I Don’t Know Why, which sees the band go well and truly out of their comfort zone with a polished ’80s-styled electronic track. It is a real dancey number – one of many on Evolve, it soon turns out – and whether you like it or not, it is hard to get the rhythmic chants of “tell me that she loved me” out of your head.
There are further highs, such as lead single Believer, which isn’t a million miles away from Radioactive. And, in a roundabout way, it signposts a flaw which reoccurs throughout Evolve. Its stronger moments often come when the band return to a style associated with their core sound rather than chasing this evolution they desire. Will their fanbase will be on board with the musical journey of discovery they’re attempting to take? Take Start Over, which sounds like the comeback single One Direction would release, as opposed to a song you’d associate with a rough around the edges rock band. Is it an evolution too far?
But there are a couple of gems to be found, with Thunder thrashing in at a time when some might be getting a little restless. There’s more than a hint of M.I.A.’s Paper Planes about it. The song gives frontman Dan Reynolds an opportunity to test his distinctive vocal range on a track which is sure to trouble the charts. It’s an obvious reference point for where Imagine Dragons’ change of direction manifests, and more to the point works.
But for every Thunder there are far too many washouts. It is clear there is no shortage of effort in attempting to make Evolve a success but there’s a clear lack of direction. Imagine Dragons seem to have tried to push out as many ideas as possible to see which work. It feels like it’s trying to be a modern day mainstream concept album, and the band are giving it their all, sheened with very good production. But is it too good for a band whose origins are routed firmly in rock?
There’s not enough quality across the whole of Evolve to convincingly make the case that Imagine Dragons actually have, or to attract an audience of new listeners. Evolve is a good idea, but in practise it turns out that it doesn’t really work.