Imagine Dragons deliver nothing but “Smoke & Mirrors” on their second album.

By Troy Kowalchuk

(Brian Bruemmer/Flickr)
(Brian Bruemmer/Flickr)

American indie rock group Imagine Dragons has returned, two and a half years after their extremely successful debut album, “Night Visions,” which brought the band’s fresh, eclectic sound all over mainstream airwaves. From the tense “It’s Time,” to the powerful “Radioactive” and the depressing yet uplifting “Demons,” the group seemed to be an unstoppable force, with each passing single turning into a hit.

Their unique, eclectic rhythms seemed to be the new direction of indie rock music. With this much success, many were waiting to see if their second album, “Smoke and Mirrors” would match the hype. But sadly, the uproarious roar demonstrated by “Night Visions” has fizzled into a racket of broken and confused sounds.

The problem with “Smoke and Mirrors,” released Feb. 17, is that it does not seem to fit in any creative niche. It is often hard to really recognize where the band is going, or headed musically. On “Night Visions,” the band was able to formulate a consistent sound and tone, but there was room at the end of the day for experimentation.

“Smoke and Mirrors” tends to waver back and forth in so many directions that it is hard to classify what the album is really aiming to accomplish. Transitions from the thunderous, and intimidating “Friction” to the light and sweeping “It Comes Back To You,” are far from smooth, and make it difficult to listen to the album in one sitting.

The separate pieces that make up “Smoke & Mirrors” simply have no cohesion when added together. As a whole, “Smoke & Mirrors” is far more experimental than the band’s previous endeavor, and it seems as though the band is trying to cram too many different styles into their music at once.

It feels as though the band is throwing things at a wall and seeing what sticks, desperately trying to make each track a hit. Yet by trying so hard to simply duplicate its predecessor’s success the band only manages to create an underwhelming product.

Lyrically, “Smoke & Mirrors” has the same issue. Many of the album’s songs trail off into disparate themes, while again failing to establish a cohesive whole. There really is nothing unconventional about the lyrics.

“I’m sorry for everything/ Oh, everything I’ve done/ From the second that I was born it seems I had a loaded gun/ And then I shot, shot, shot a hole through everything I loved,” go the leading vocals of the opening track “Shots.” The lyrics feels rather weak and even when shouted in lead singer Dan Reynolds’ typical style, the song feels hollow. While listening to the album, it is hard to feel any emotional connection to the material, as the listener does not know where to go.

Separately, some of the songs do show promise, yet as a whole the album is mostly incoherent. “I Bet My Life” carries a fun, upbeat and bright tone. “I’m On Top of the World” continues the sound that Imagine Dragons’ legions of fans have come to expect from the band.

Though songs like “Friction” have the same sort of powerful vocals that carried the band’s breakthrough mega-hit “Radioactive,” “Smoke & Mirrors” ultimately goes in too many diverging directions to be as effective and explosive as their debut. And while the album certainly has the potential to be great, it often seems so focused on living up to its predecessor that even in its more overwhelming moments, “Smoke & Mirrors” is a distant murmur compared to “Night Visions.”

Troy Kowalchuk can be reached at [email protected]