Release Date: September 3rd 2021
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- My Life
- Easy Come Easy Go
- It’s Ok
- Dull Knives
- Follow You
- No Time For Toxic People
- One Day
One of the most popular rock bands currently, Imagine Dragons is back with their new album Mercury – Act 1. I first heard about the widely popular and respected band through their massive hits that were playing on my local radio station Hope 103.2. songs like “Whatever It Takes”, “Believer”, “Born To Be Yours”, “On Top Of The World” and “Demons” (as well as the mostly annoying “Thunder”) were songs that were extremely catchy and also songs that meant something. These were songs I heard post-2018, meaning after the release of the band’s 4th album Origins, hence this upcoming album of Mercury – Act 1 was the first album of theirs that I had known about when I actually knew who the band was. And despite the group not being a Christian band, I kind of felt that the group was still singing about something bigger than themselves, something more grandiose that the usual ‘have a good time’ party pop songs that flood the airwaves. Maybe it’s because Dan is someone of some sort of faith (even though it is of the Mormon variety!) and hence I guess some of the songs are filled with spiritual references and that resonates to a lot of people; but whatever the case, I decided to be proactive and listen to Imagine Dragons’ new album. The album dropped around about a couple of weeks ago, and after reading interviews from dan about the project and after listening to the album for a while… can I say that for front man Dan Reynolds, this new album seems to be more like a rebirth, a reinvention and somewhat of a new beginning? I’m a sucker for underdog stories about people discovering parts of themselves and parts of the world and God that they themselves didn’t know existed and was buried deep down underneath, so Mercury – Act 1 really resonates with me. And maybe it shouldn’t, as the album isn’t an album about Christianity and Jesus and everything connected with my worldview. But if I limit God speaking in what I only prefer, as opposed to allowing God to speak to me through any way He wants to… then I’m limiting God and that’s definitely not a good thing. Imagine Dragons’ new album has impacted my walk with God quite a bit over the past couple of weeks. And I’m not afraid to say it. And so, you all can listen to their new album, but if you’re on the fence, then read along in this review.
I’ve actually been doing that [seeing a therapist] for years, even before the pandemic. And it’s been great, and I really, really believe in speaking openly about it, because I think it’s super-important for anybody who should be in therapy. That’s my personal belief—it’s a life saver, and I’ve been in therapy now for over a decade. I think that life is hard. Life is very difficult in itself, and especially with Covid going on—human interaction is at an all-time low. We’re interacting very little, so it’s very important just to express ourselves with another human. So at its very base level, therapy is just getting some time to reflect and think and talk about what’s going on in your life, and put it into words. And I think it’s just incredibly healing and important for everybody.
Our relationship [Aja and myself] has been going for over a decade now, and anybody who’s been in a long relationship knows that it’s ups and downs and it’s work, and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes people are in a relationship that isn’t healthy, and they should move on, and some people just should never be in a relationship because they louse it up. But Aja and I really have been so much together—she’s been with me since before the band, if anything, and she’s badass. And she actually co-wrote one of the songs on the record, “Dull Knives”—we sat down together and wrote that song. So she’s my other half, and we worked through it, worked through a seven-month separation without talking , and kind of reassigning ourselves in life after seven years of marriage. And we did really have a lot of breakthroughs in those seven months, and that’s why we decided to come back together actually at the divorce table, when we finally sat down there.
And it’s funny, because “text” sounds so trite—it’s a word you normally associate with emojis, you know what I mean? But it’s really a modern-day letter. Letters have moved on, and words can move mountains now. And after seven months without speaking, we had both grown a lot. I was out on the road, touring the world, while I was just in a super-dark time of my life, and this was pre-pandemic, while touring our last record. So we both were going through a lot, and she just wrote me this long letter about navigating through life, and forgiveness and acceptance and growth, and how we were gonna be co-parents together and figure this out. It’s kind of hard to explain because it was in that short format, but it was everything I needed to hear, and everything she needed to say, as far as her own truths. And I dunno—when we sat down at that table, I was like, “Why are we doing this again?” We both were crying, and then we just stood up and walked out. And we had been seeing just these two lawyers, and after seven months of no talking, with just these lawyers talking instead, it was horrible. And as anybody who’s been through a divorce knows it’s a horrible, horrible, horrible process, especially with kids. So we decided to go to lunch, where we decided to start dating again, and it was like day one—we just started dating again, and after a couple of months I re-proposed, as if we’d never considered divorce in the first place.
With 13 songs of pop/rock goodness, I’m positive that there’s something that will resonate with any one of you. Album opener “My Life” musically doesn’t hit you hard, as it’s a piano led slow-tempo ballad, but the subject matter is really, really heavy. A melody whereby Dan dives deep into the concept of dug abuse and about someone wanting to end their life; the self reflective melody asks the questions where I think CCM falls short; and this song speaks about the realities that people face. Addiction in any and all of its forms, is scary; but speaking about the issue is one way we can destigmatise the topic. “My Life” is a messy song, but it’s a needed song in my opinion: I really don’t know what I’m trying to share when I’m sharing it. I never sit down and think, ‘What’s my theme? What am I looking to accomplish?’ It’s more, ‘What am I feeling?’ and five years later I go, oh, that’s what that was about. ‘My Life’ is one of those songs because it’s a vulnerable song and that’s been a hard thing for me. I’ve been overly metaphorical over the years and Rick (Rubin) really pushed me to be more vulnerable. The subject matter is pretty self-evident. I wanted the song to end on a note that felt empowered rather than controlled by substance.
The rest of Mercury – Act 1, speaks about a wide array of issues, and brings to the fore necessary and hard-hitting truths about ourselves and the world we live in. “Lonely”, a 2 minute pop tune, speaks about the swept-under-the-rug topic of loneliness, and the feelings of anxiety and emotional confusion; and is another melody where we need to sit up and take notice: Lonely is a song directed towards my anxiety and feelings of being an introvert in an extroverted career. While I always wanted to be a musician from a young age, I had no idea of all the changes that would come with along with it. I’ve always felt free on stage performing, but have found myself wanting to hide from all other aspects of my life throughout the last decade, especially those pertaining to fame and attention. I’ve become more and more of a recluse over the years. Whereas the heartbreaking and emotional acoustic pop tune and radio single “Wrecked” speaks about Dan’s sister-in-law’s passing due to cancer, and the realisation that he hasn’t moved on from the harrowing experience, that ‘…oh, I’m a wreck without you here, yeah, I’m a wreck since you’ve been gone, I’ve tried to put this all behind me, I think I was wrecked all along, yeah, I’m a wreck…’; and “Monday” is a poppy sweet ‘love letter’ to his wife of 10 years- a song that is a track we all can sing to our spouses and future spouses right now and in the future. It’s at this point where we realise that Imagine Dragons is a band that speaks about a lot of issues, and this album is one that cannot be background music.
The next song “#1”, speaks about a similar theme to the entire album, or caring for oneself, as Dan sings about how you yourself are your own number one person, and that our own opinion of ourself matters most of all, that ‘…I know what I’m meant to be, I don’t need no one to believe, when it’s all been said and done, I’m still my number one…’; while the album continues on with the ‘heavier’ lyrical topics in the loss of a supposed life-long friendship, as Dan laments the dissolution of his childhood friendship in “Easy Come Easy Go”, that As I’ve grown up, I’ve become more of a recluse, and COVID hasn’t helped that. I’m already an introvert in an extroverted career. But the song is about my best friend in high school who had bone cancer and was in a wheelchair in high school. He’s always, always been there and as the band has traveled, we’ve grown apart, which was heartbreaking for me. I hadn’t talked to him in years and I had him come over after I wrote that song and played it for him and we sat together and listened to it and it was quite emotional for both of us. It’s so hard for me to express (emotions) in person, like, why have we grown apart? It’s so much easier for me to put it in melody and lyrics. It’s I guess somewhat difficult to release song after song about emotional and personal topics, but Imagine Dragons have done excellent here doing exactly that. “Giants”, another song about drug and substance abuse, is sung to his children and further details Dan’s unbridled and maybe naïve hope for their future- a future without the pressures of being perfect and the temptations and the trappings of this world. While the band also dive into the topic of love, tolerance and acceptance, in the LGBTQIA-themed “It’s Ok”, which also doubles up as a generic pick-me-up song, inspiring people via letting them know that it’s ok to be not ok.
“Dull Knives”, co-written with Dan’s wife, is one of the sonically heaviest tracks on the project, as Dan powerfully speaks about depression and feelings of isolation and helplessness. With the song a prayer asking God to come and save their life, the band fervently sing about ‘dull knives’ taking their lives- alluding to little things everyday shaping them into people they hate and don’t want to be (similar in style to any song from Linkin Park!). “Follow You”, a melody about love and the true meaning of devotion, reminds us all that Loving someone is an incredibly imperfect process. It isn’t always romantic or pretty. Sometimes it can be incredibly painful. Aja taught me self-love and showed me what it meant to truly accept someone without any expectations. She was endlessly patient with me. She didn’t need me. She even taught me that I didn’t need her. But we loved each other and […] we chose to remarry and to stay together. I proposed again and she said yes, again. Not every relationship works out this way, but it did for us. It isn’t the happy ending—it is a choice that works for some. And Aja and I re-chose it after experiencing life without each other. […] I wanted [“Follow You”] to represent a love that is realistic. One where love isn’t perfect, but it endures. While the band’s promotional single “Cutthroat” is a no-holds-barred track about dying to your old self and being someone new who you love and who you fully know and appreciate.
“No Time For Toxic People”, a guitar summer jam of sorts, speaks about ridding your life of negative people and instead celebrating each day as it comes and living each day to the fullest. It’s a positive and happy-go-lucky melody that is sure to dissipate your worries; while Mercury – Act 1 ends with the jovial and optimistic track “One Day”. As Dan eloquently and fervently longs for the day when every wrong is made right; he is in effect speaking about heaven. And as Dan reignites within us a passion and longing to be where Jesus is; we are glimpsed into one person’s journey and one person making sense of the world around him.
I will say that growing up, I had two posters on my wall—I had Bob Marley and Kurt Cobain, so those are two people I grew up listening to a lot of. But I hadn’t even thought of it till you said that, so I’d have to listen to it again with that in mind. But I certainly wasn’t intending to make reggae music, but I was certainly into those artists, and I think every artist is a product of what they grew up listening to. You’re a product of your influences, so I grew up in the ‘90s listening to grunge and reggae, so I’m sure it came together in some way, even though you can’t articulate it. People always ask me, “Who are your influences?” And I’m like, “I dunno who’s not my influences? Everything I listened to, I guess.” And I still listen to everything—I listen to a lot of music. And to just pinpoint it down to a couple of people to say who my influences are? That’s a question that’s always been difficult. So I guess I can tell you a couple of people that I love, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they had the greatest influence on my music. My music is the high notes of a million different things I’ve listened to, you know?
I’m definitely searching to find those beliefs, spiritual beliefs again in my life, of something greater than myself. I feel like the first 10 years of Imagine Dragons was actually just about my personal spiritual crisis. It was a religious crisis, because I was raised with religion, and when it fell away from me, I felt like I had no foundation—everything I believed and thought was just gone. And it just felt like, “Well, what’s the reason in life?” Where other people have kind of built these foundational spiritual structures to depend on, I just had nothing to pull from, because that I had built upon just tumbled. It was like Jenga, where you pull out the one block and it just makes the whole thing fall. And you’re like, “Well, where do I go from here?” You know? But it’s weird, because every time we’re putting out a record, it just feels like I’ve finished a journal, and I’m putting that journal on the table. Every song I write, the majority of ’em are never about anybody. I wake up most days and I write a song most days, and I collect those songs, or pages in a journal, and they sound different and have different sizes and shapes, but it’s all my words and what I’m thinking and how I’m feeling that day, or what I’m thinking about a song that I want to write. And then when it comes time for the record, it’s like condensing that down. It’s like if someone were to come up and say, “Where are the 10 pages that tell what really happened in that year?” “Okay—here’s the 10 pages.” And that’s what our albums are. And because we write all our own songs, it actually is literally just a personal journal, for better or worse, and people either want the journal to end, or they don’t. And I can’t fault anybody for choosing either side of that, because we’re all here for a short period of time, and you consume what relates to you, or what you feel you need to consume to make life a little better. So to have you say that I’m making people’s lives better? I love that. I would only hope for that, because my only hope is to bring some authenticity and truth to anything I do, and hopefully that involves light, because there’s enough hardship out there already.
We knew we were gonna take a hiatus, pre-Covid. So after our last record, we were so tired—we’d been touring for 10 years straight, so we signed off indefinitely, and we didn’t know how long it was gonna be. And I honestly think we would have probably taken the same amount of time off if Covid had never happened. So everybody kept to themselves, and we sent songs to each other over the internet and still collaborated that way. And I think it came together when Platzman, our drummer, recorded the instrumentation for “Cutthroat” and sent me “Cutthroat” from his studio. So we were all working together doing these demos, and then we went into the studio with Rick for a month and went through 70 of those recordings, and then narrowed it down to 30, and that’s how the record came together.
Imagine Dragons are the type of band that you would jam out to, but I reckon one wouldn’t have necessarily listened intently to the lyrics. However, with Mercury – Act 1, this stops now. Dan Reynolds and co. have unveiled a near-flawless masterpiece about the human condition, and though we all might not be experts at the group’s discography, I encourage you all to dive deep with this one. This album may not make you a fan of the band just yet, but what it does do is to inspire us and make us recognise great art. This album doesn’t offer up solutions to our problems, but shines a more focused light. Obviously the answer is Jesus… but for an album that isn’t Christian in nature and creates discussion even more than some CCM albums… there is plenty here for us to chew on. Well done guys for starting the ball rolling on some serious issues we often sweep under the rug!
5 songs to listen to: Wrecked, #1, Easy Come Easy Go, No Time For Toxic People, One Day
RIYL: Paramore, Daughtry, Switchfoot, Needtobreathe, OneRepublic, U2, Twenty One Pilots, Sheppard