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Whatever you think of Imagine Dragons, they don’t do things half-heartedly. After breaking through early with singles such as “Radioactive” and “Demons,” the Las Vegas band has been huge – in terms of success, sound, and ambition. Mercury – Act 2, their latest album, is actually the second half of a double album, and it completes what Mercury – Act 1 began.
Mercury – Act 2 is thematically concerned with the existential fallout from loss, with tracks filled with self-loathing and regret, as well as the occasional upbeat track. On the ornate “Symphony,” Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds muses, “Life is just perspective/Laughing when you wreck it.” This seems to be the guiding principle of Act 2, which softens Imagine Dragons’ sometimes crushing sound with darkly witty lyrics and, sometimes, sonic choices that allow the band’s music to breathe.
They fuse elements of alt-rock’s defining acts in their quest for stadium-shaking gold, observing what’s worked for the genre over the past three decades. In the angst-ridden “I Don’t Like Myself” and the campfire singalong “Take It Easy,” Reynolds smooths out his yelp just enough to resemble Anthony Kieidis’ post-“Under the Bridge” croon; Reggae-inspired syncopations that keep bands such as Sublime in heavy rotation even among Gen Z abound; and acoustic-guitar tracks like “Younger” and “Ferris Wheel” evoke Imagine Dragons’ jangley singles “It’s Time” from before they were megastars.
“Symphony,” which is headphone-friendly and playful, is one of the album’s highlights, while “Blur,” propelled by grimy riffing and an explosive chorus, sounds like Imagine Dragons’ next crossover contender. While Imagine Dragons could be categorized as a band prone to largesse musically and emotionally, Mercury — Act 2 places its high-octane emotionalism into compact packages: Even the more downcast cuts, like the mortality-minded opener, “Bones,” and the stomping “Higher Ground,” cast brooding shadows while maintaining motion.
Imagine Dragons’ over-the-top tendencies give its music extra weight at times. “I Wish” is a regret-wracked ballad about a friend who passed away before it was possible to say goodbye, and its subject matter makes it an ideal match for Imagine Dragons’ emotional maximalism; Reynolds’ voice is evident here, and “How I wish I had been a better friend/Before it was too late” is a sentiment even the most reserved person might scream in an empty room.
Over the past decade, Imagine Dragons have been at the top of rock’s admittedly depleted heap. On Mercury — Act 2, they aren’t reinventing themselves, but they are fine-tuning what has made them one of the few rock acts to consistently headline stadiums and launch songs onto pop playlists. In Mercury – Act 2, the band embodies the essence of its appeal, tweaking it just enough to attract non-fans without losing sight of how they reached the world’s biggest stages in the first place.