Time to Evolve
I've never reviewed an album before, but I've reviewed books, and the difference isn't always as big as you'd imagine. Music engages us in empathy, reflection and revelation as much as any story can. It has the same power to leave us weeping, the same capacity to carry our minds and hearts to another place. I love music for that.
Imagine Dragons' third album Evolve was announced alongside a one-off London performance at the Roundhouse in Camden on June 7th, their only UK date this year. Stan and I were fortunate enough to get tickets and see them live for the fourth time. On the Smoke and Mirrors tour we had found some of the anticipated atmosphere was lost in the huge space of the Birmingham Barclaycard Arena. The first time we had seen them was in a smaller venue where their percussive alt rock sound thrummed through you - absolutely killer with tracks like Radioactive and the synth-loving Tiptoe.
In the intimate and warmly-lit circle of the Roundhouse, they were as captivating as that first time. New tracks Whatever it Takes and Believer, released earlier in the year, were passionately sung back at frontman Dan Reynolds by the crowd; Thunder was, well, thunderous. Evolve wasn't due for release until late June so the rest of the gig was back catalogue and equally glorious. When Evolve appeared in the post, Stan knew how keen I was to hear it in full and left it out for me to put in the car. I've been listening to it on repeat for a week.
I don't mind admitting that I found myself in tears on Saturday morning, driving down to the Cotswolds with this music pouring over me. Whatever it Takes had me smacking the steering wheel emphatically, revisiting fear of failure (that old friend) and actual failure, which has been a major part of my past few year's learning curve. Walking the Wire, this unexpectedly sweet love song sliding in after Believer, was giving me flashbacks of the challenges Stan and I experienced when we were first married, so I cried because I could see how far we'd come and how good things are now.
Evolve hasn't had the stellar reviews the band earned for their debut, Night Visions, or Smoke and Mirrors in 2014. In fact the reviews are pretty bad. But I didn't read them before I listened and for me, this album meant something, said something.
Maybe it's because I read interviews in which lead singer Dan Reynolds spoke about his experience of depression and illness, and how his songwriting had developed as a more honest outlet for what he went through. Maybe it's more simply because I tend to connect with the feeling a song pulls me into first and foremost, followed by or sometimes jointly with the lyrics. To me, the exploration of some newer (and old) sounds in Evolve is a refreshing complement to this rather than a distraction.
I actually quite like the 80s sonic touches which have always peppered the band's work. These become full and unapologetic through Evolve, especially on I Don't Know Why, Rise Up and Make it up to You. I also love the way Whatever it Takes blends the anthemic sound Imagine Dragons create so perfectly with these driving, poetic verses (more on those later).
Believer is something special. It pulls out just the right amount of angst, punctuated by Reynolds' hip-hop inspired lyric spitting:
I was choking in the crowd
Building my rain up in the cloud
Falling like ashes to the ground
Hoping my feelings, they would drown But they never did, ever lived, ebbing and flowing Inhibited, limited Till it broke open and it rained down
For a song whose recurring refrain is 'pain!', it's surprisingly upbeat.
In their haste to criticise what they see as a commercially-aimed, chart pop style, the critics don't give Reynolds anywhere near enough credit for his songwriting on this album. Whatever it Takes is a lyrical masterpiece through the verses, a pared back vocal pouring out poetry:
Working onto something that I'm proud of, out of the box An epoxy to the world and the vision we've lost I'm an apostrophe I'm just a symbol to remind you that there's more to see I'm just a product of the system, a catastrophe And yet a masterpiece, and yet I'm half-diseased
Musically, it's everything you expect from Imagine Dragons and more: a full, sonorous sound with a strong percussive backbone, but a willingness to strip back to vocal moments that don't have to strain to drive the song forward.
29-year-old career-uncertain, discouraged me needed this album. In its better lyrics I identified my best and worse impulses, the darkness I fight and the hope I harbour. And if that sounds like I'm laying it on thick then maybe I am and my need/love for Evolve will fade into the background pretty quickly. But for the moment, it's holding strong. And I can't wait for another chance to hear this music live.