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Smooth Bananas: ‘Mercury – Act 1’

Imagine Dragons is a band that has had its ups and downs. They started out strong as a pop sensation but quickly fell from the spotlight in the popular consciousness of music listeners. Their new album, “Mercury – Act 1” has put them underground.

The album, produced by Rick Rubin and released by labels Kidinakorner and Interscope, is the band’s fifth studio album. It features 13 tracks of similar lengths. The album runs approximately 42 minutes in length. The album was announced on June 30, 2021, and released on Sept. 3.

The band is from Las Vegas originally and, believe me, it shows. Their albums all play like an overdone strip mall show that you’d have to pay way too much to see and wish to leave as soon as the curtain drops. Their music is designed to be experienced on a stage rather than listened to secondhand. Dan Reynolds, their front man, might be mistaken for a entertainer-magician if you put them all in a lineup together.

The band has had no problems monetizing their music in the Spotify era. Their music is great background noise for doing housework and for putting on to get children amped up, but just because it gets lots of play doesn’t mean that anyone gives a damn about it. Imagine Dragons’ only central feature is that they don’t have one. They can’t build a fan brand around nothing. Fans of their music have a hard time connecting and supporting their sound in a meaningful way because of this lack of vision. Harry Styles has a brand (it’s queer liberation and sex appeal). Beyonce has a brand (it’s strong vocals, being the Queen, and incredible dance moves). Imagine Dragons just doesn’t have the same flair. This new album might be a step in the right direction, even if it is a stumble.

The touch of Rick Rubin on the band is incredibly evident. He makes their sound so much more palatable. Before Imagine Dragons sounded like wall of sound for their 50-minute albums. Now, there’s a little more introspection. Reynolds normally has clumsy lyrics that become a detriment but, on this album, they become a boon.

However, Rubin can’t stop everything that makes Imagine Dragons. They still blast their emotions in such a plain manner that it begins to feel like they’re insulting the listener’s intelligence. Everyone knows “Radioactive,” I’m sure most people wish they didn’t sometimes. “Dull Knives” on this album has a similar feel and the disconnect between the lyrical content and the musical material is palpable. This also isn’t one of those new age commentaries on music-lyric dissonance—it’s just sloppy.

The album also has some tracks that are hokey, for lack of better words. They go through a plethora of styles that seem more like bad covers than originals. They briefly soft-shoe through pretend LGBTQ allyship on “It’s OK” but the message is completely undercut by the beach rock sound of the song.

This is an album that I’d say looks better as a coaster than a top 10 on Spotify. “Mercury – Act 1” receives a D-minus rating.

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