I once had a jazz piano teacher tell me that there are no new chord progressions in popular music. He believed Bach had done it all harmonically, and that the only aspect of popular music musicians could push the boundaries on is rhythm. On its third full-length album, Evolve, the group Imagine Dragons boldly pushes rhythmic boundaries.
Rhythm is highlighted from start to finish. The first song, “I Don’t Know Why,” has an energetic shuffle beat and numerous layers of percussion. Throughout the album, lead singer and lyricist Dan Reynolds delivers many of the words in a percussive manner, especially during the first single, “Believer.”
The feel of Evolve is noticeably brighter than the group’s second album, Smoke & Mirrors. Reynolds revealed in several interviews that he struggles with depression, and he was particularly affected during the recording of Smoke & Mirrors. Through time and treatment, he came to feel much healthier, leading to an album that expresses gratitude for health and life.
Reynolds grew up in the Mormon church. He completed a two-year mission after high school before attending Brigham Young University, where he formed Imagine Dragons. He still loosely identifies himself as a Mormon, though he has expressed significant questions about the Mormon faith. He doesn’t delve into his spiritual questions and exploration on this album, choosing instead to explore themes of struggle, pain, and victory.
The lyrics to “Believer” express that struggle: “Pain!/You made me a, you made me a believer, believer/Pain!/You break me down, you build me up, believer, believer.” “Thunder” is a song of victory over detractors and doubters, using rhythm to convey a confident swagger. This album is refreshingly free of popular culture’s obsession with sex and relationship, proving that musicians can write about other topics, and listeners will still enjoy it.
Evolve is excellent for all ages, offering entertaining music that can enrich and possibly speak into the listener’s experience. It is not an album that commands extensive study or deconstruction. Enjoy it for what it is, a pop album that is a rhythmic gem. (Interscope)