Imagine Dragons’ new album cover shows a man falling through space, as if gently pulled by gravity. Inside is the sound of a man dealing with his own downfall.
The group’s lead singer/songwriter/songwriter, Dan Reynolds, has poured his pain and struggle to stay sober into the raw, confessional, searing “Mercury – Act 1,” a gutsy record from a band that refuses to back down and Live off past successes.
“In many ways, I felt like the foundation had been completely ripped out from under my feet over the last decade. I spent a lot of my time accepting that self-pity and wallowing in it,” Reynolds said from his Las Vegas home. “This album is mostly about taking action and rebuilding.”
The 13-track album uses Reynolds’ falsetto to great effect to explore different soundscapes, and its lyrics ache with the portrait of a man who lost friends to cancer, had his own personal breakdown, and battled depression and addiction. .
“I find it hard to love myself,” he sings on “My Life.” In “Lonely,” he says, “These days I’m becoming everything I hate.” The song “Dull Knives” features Reynolds almost screaming in anguish: “Could someone please save my life?” And the chorus of another song declares, “It’s okay not to be okay.”
The album was written over a three-year period in which a lot happened in Reynolds’ life. He split from his wife Aja Volkman, but the couple reunited in late 2018 after a seven-month break and welcomed a fourth child, Valentine, soon after. He lost loved ones to cancer, including his business manager, an ex-girlfriend, and his sister-in-law, and that inspired “Wrecked.”
The deaths had the effect of reminding Reynolds how short life is, and he says he wants to make the most of the days he has left, by staying present and vulnerable.
“I want to grow as close as possible to those I love, and that really requires being raw and honest. Vulnerability is a superpower. Certainly I haven’t even begun to master it, especially being an introvert, but it’s one of my biggest goals in life.”
Featuring guitarist Wayne Sermon, drummer Daniel Platzman and bassist Ben McKee, Imagine Dragons have always evolved their sound, but this, their fifth studio album, is a pretty radical step. Early-career hits like “Believer” and “Radioactive” have given way to murkier, smaller songs with electronic flourishes.
For “Mercury – Act 1,” the band leaned on producer Rick Rubin, who urged them to delve into the darkness and not worry if what they found would alienate their fans.
“Rick reminded me that, over the last decade, my fans have grown up with me. They not only want to grow with me, but they expected to. He told me to never worry about putting pressure on them in an uncomfortable way,” Reynolds said. “And that he would really be doing them a disservice if he tried to recreate the past or sugarcoat the present. I just owe them vulnerability and honesty.”
Reynolds said it distressed him to speak frankly about his own addiction battles; he worried that his followers would mistakenly think he was glorifying drugs.
“I just tried to paint an honest description of sobriety and addiction. Because in its most honest sense, there is nothing beautiful or attractive about it; it can look incredibly painful and ugly,” he said.
“I have seen my friends die from drug addiction. The last thing I want to do is glorify him. But I also don’t want to embarrass anyone by their circumstances. And the goal of art is to share both our darkest and lightest moments. I think singing about my own struggle will hopefully give someone else some kind of peace or resolve.”
For all its angst, “Mercury – Act 1” ends with two upbeat songs: “No Time for Toxic People”, with a tropical twist, and “One Day”, with a Hawaiian flavor and the hopeful lyrics: “I know that one day / I will be that which makes you happy”. It evokes perfect waves and sun through the clouds.
“This album deals a lot with searching and loneliness, with the struggle with the finite state of reality. However, I wanted it to end on a note of celebration to lay the groundwork for a more stable future,” said Reynolds.
“I wanted to end the album by focusing on all the things that make me happy, the simple things that keep me going every day. Looking to the future. Pointing out to myself all the beauty that surrounds me.”
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Imagine Dragons plunges into darkness on brave album
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