Imagine Dragons has, in spite of their remarkable commercial success, become a bit of a joke in recent years. Their first album, Night Visions, was pretty good, but everything they’ve released since has felt like the lifeless results of a machine-learning algorithm designed to appeal to people who drink a lot of Amp. Their previous album, Evolve, was particularly guilty of this syndrome, sounding like a bizarro version of Night Visions where every song sucked. So with Origins, I came in with low expectations.
The first half of the album is stronger, as Imagine Dragons floats with ease through pop clichés: a Phillip Phillips-esque folk pop revival on “West Coast,” electropop heavy with reverb on “Boomerang” and “Cool Out” and burning arena rock on “Machine.” By and large, these are well-executed and pleasant, if not remarkable. Dan Reynolds has a knack for catchy melodies, in particular soaring choruses. “Machine” is the best of this specific brand of ascendant commercial rock, a stomping groove inexorably marching towards the Billboard Top 40. “Bad Liar” is also a pretty strong cut, with one of the stickiest melodies on the album.
The second half of the album is much less enjoyable than the first. There are some moments of interest, but they fizzle out quickly. There’s “Love,” whose chorus sounds a little too similar to “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz (but without the catchiness). In “Digital,” at one point, Dan starts yelling throatily over a hyperactive breakbeat drum loop, a development that is more surprising than good. At first I thought “Burn Out” would be a solid deep cut, and I kept waiting for the good part to kick in; it was only after the song ended did I realize that, in fact, there was no good part to be found.
Despite exceeding my low expectations, Origins is definitely subpar. Most of the songs on here will work well as music in car commercials or soundtracks to Fortnite compilations, but don’t have much musical value outside of that. They suffer from the same lifeless corporate flavor that has been permeating Imagine Dragons’s music since the It’s Time (EP), but at least they seem self-aware at this point. There’s really no reason to go out of your way to listen to Origins outside of a couple of decent cuts (“Machine,” “Bad Liar”) that you’ll probably end up hearing anyway during an ad for Regions Bank or something.
Imagine Dragons suffers from the same phenomenon Nickelback did a decade or so back — undeserved commercial success has led to undeserved critical backlash. While the music of these bands isn’t particularly good, the fact that they are the prominent butt of critical derision would make you believe they are much worse than they really are. Origins is commercial and inconsequential, but it is far from unpleasant or incompetent, and I’ve heard much worse music from bands that don’t get a fraction of the hate. The average person who doesn’t pay much attention to music probably really likes Imagine Dragons. To capture that audience range takes talent, and just because it doesn’t resonate with snobbish critics (like me), does not mean that it’s not of worth.