Release Date: July 1st 2021
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Enemy (from the series Arcane League Of Legends) [with JID]
- My Life
- Easy Come Easy Go
- It’s Ok
- Dull Knives
- Follow You
- No Time For Toxic People
- One Day
- I Don’t Like Myself
- Higher Ground
- Take It Easy
- I’m Happy
- Ferris Wheel
- Peace Of Mind
- I Wish
- Continual (feat. Cory Henry)
- They Don’t Know You Like I Do
I think above all, anyone who has lost someone that they love, is a really earth-shattering, devastating experience to go through. I wrote this record during a time period when I lost my best friend since middle school, who took his own life. My sister-in-law passed away from cancer really abruptly within a year, leaving behind her six kids. My ex-girlfriend passed away from leukemia. It was just, horrible. Have you ever had a friend who suddenly within two years they lose so many people? It’s one of those things where sometimes it rains, and when it rains, it pours.
Those people who lose their mom and then they lose their dad the next year, I don’t understand how it works. But for whatever reason, that was a big theme in my life for the past five years and I wanted to at least be able to memorialize them and those relationships on songs like “They Don’t Know You Like I Do,” which is about my best friend, or “Waves.” “I Wish” was about my sister-in-law.
Long story short, I hope that people are able to find some sort of cathartic release. But also joy. This record isn’t supposed to be a sad, morbid, record. It’s really about life and celebrating every day and remembering that it is finite and it can all be gone. And being present. I just hope it brings joy, above all, to people’s lives.
It’s such a blessing to be able to do this right now, especially with how crazy everything is, politically. It’s just like, we’re living in such a crazy time and it’s really easy to get caught up in it all, feel like doom and gloom. Almost every night, I get to get on the stage and see the best part of humanity, which is people gathered together and being united for music. Celebrating lives and so especially post-COVID, there’s a deeper hunger for human interaction. I can see some of the joy in people’s lives, just for being able to be out amongst each other.
Seeing each other smile, and seeing each other’s faces. There’s deeper gratitude for everything because it’s been taken away in the last few years. So it’s been a really deep blessing. I feel so lucky to be able to do this every day and constantly be reminded about the good things about humanity rather than just always opening up the news every day and lingering in that world.
One of the most popular rock bands currently, Imagine Dragons is back with their new double-disc album Mercury: Acts 1 & 2, an extension of their previous 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 the 2021 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 13-track album released in September 2021, 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 usually 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; and 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. When I listened to Mercury – Act 1, and I reviewed the album (which you can read here!), I found that Imagine Dragons’ new album impacted my walk with God quite a bit over the past couple of weeks. And so… when the group re-released their new album with 18 more tracks (and rephrased it as Mercury: Acts 1 & 2)… then, I guess it’s time to check out the project yet again. I’m not afraid to say it that this release of 32 tracks is probably my favourite album of the year. It probably will forever be my favourite come the year’s end. And so, there’s no reason for any of you not to listen to this album- it’s pretty moving, encouraging, and inspiring. But… if you’re still on the fence, then read along in this review.
For those of you who have read my previous review… I won’t go into detail about the 13 tracks we’ve already heard. But… if you want to read a brief overview of why I personally reckon that Mercury – Act 1 as an album from 2021 is still so poignant, then let’s read on for a bit. 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 drug 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. “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. 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…’. “#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”. “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.
“Follow You”, a melody about love and the true meaning of devotion, reminds us all love is messy, but love is worth the risk and worth the fight in the long run; 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. If you haven’t listened to Mercury – Act 1 yet, then I reckon you all should give that portion of the album a crack. But special mention needs to be given to “Enemy”, the lone new addition in the ‘disc 1’ portion of the album. It’s a collaboration with rapper JID, and a powerful pop melody about reconciling the internal conflict within you and wrestling with the views of seeing yourself as the enemy versus how your loved ones around you see and view how you are. It’s a song that was written for the Netflix series Arcane: League Of Legends, and though I haven’t seen the show, this track nonetheless is powerful as it asks the questions of whether we believe our depreciating and belittling views about ourselves if everyone else sees us as valuable and important and special.
I’ve put off explaining this record as long as I could. What can be said about grief? There is no word or sentence to explain what accompanies the loss of someone you love. ‘Mercury Act 1’ was primarily focused on the shock of losing a loved one. The immediate feeling of emptiness. Something that was of great worth to you is now gone, and the pain left in its wake is overwhelming. Do you attempt to fill it with something else? Do you try to forget it? You can’t forget it. You can’t replace it.
‘Mercury Act 2’ focuses primarily on life after loss. What now? Life must continue. You have obligations to fulfill. People to take care of. A job. A life of your own. I imagine those who have passed on want nothing more than for us to carry on with more presence of mind. More gratitude. More living!
‘Mercury Act 2’ is about living. Not forgetting, but rather carrying on with a new sense of being. A new sense of urgency. Recognition of the finite. My only hope is that this record brings you some sense of peace. What a funny word that is. Peace. A place that seems impossible to reach. But still a place I strive to reach each day. I guess I hope it brings you a little closer to it.
This record is not about death but rather life. May every day be your best. May this record bring you joy. I hope it does. It has brought me joy. And you bring me joy. Thank you for listening for all these years. Sending you all my love.
And now, let’s dissect the ‘second disc’, shall we? From first listen, Imagine Dragons have outdone themselves, and have written about heavy topics, as well as positive pop songs. 18 tracks (let alone 32!) is pretty tough to sit through in one sitting, but these guys make the album fun, so much so that listening doesn’t seem like a bore. “Bones” is a heavy melody where Dan examines the finality and fragility of life, with Dan hoping for there to be life after death. As Christians and as believers, we know that heaven is real and we will be with Jesus after we die; but as Dan isn’t a Christian, this melody is him trying to make sense of the end of his life, whenever that may be. And it’s probably understandable that Dan has questions about life after death and the spiritual and the religious… he’s gone through tremendous loss with some friends and some family members dying; and he’s asking questions. Though there are no answers in “Bones”, and there may seem to be divisiveness on the conclusions of the answers (whether you are a Christian or not), one thing though is for certain. Dan reminds us that in this life, which we all know will end someday, we should treat people with dignity, love, kindness, and respect. Living life to the fullest can make us feel happy and satisfied too, even if we as people are unsure about life after death or not.
“Symphony”, another deep dive into the mysteries of the unknown, is a pop song where Dan eloquently and powerfully relays to us that because we don’t know what happens tomorrow or even in an hour from now, we need to treasure the people we value and cherish in this life very deeply and very tightly. A song that encourages us to spend time with the ones you love, Dan confidently conveys that ‘…this life is one big symphony, this night is one for you and me, I’m the strings and you’re the timpani, you’re my constant tambourine…; while the tongue in cheek and facetious “Sharks” speaks about how people will betray you at the drop of a hat, and that’s just how life goes. Dan also sings about many realities of life in this track, like death and people who say that they are your friends, trying to ultimately beat you to the top of the corporate ladder. Stuff like that just happens in life, and “Sharks” is Dan laughing at the situation in some kind of way that accepts that bad things happen to good people. “I Don’t Like Myself” is a melody whereby the persona has deep-seated identity and self-worth issues, with Dan relaying that he doesn’t like himself sometimes for reasons unknown, as he also subtly encourages us to seek help from friends and family if you yourself are feeling this way; while “Blur” is a hard-hitting rock song about coveting the things in life that you can’t have- be it material possessions or that fancy job in the horizon or that person’s spouse- Dan again doesn’t provide any answers, but again presents us with outlandish feelings and situations, so that we can relate in part to the persona, and have a healthy discussion around aforementioned topics.
“Higher Ground”, a 2-minute pop song, delves into the concept of always striving for something more and always wanting to be the very best at what you do; while “Crushed” speaks about Dan’s feelings when someone he loves, and respects has betrayed him in a very personal way. “Take It Easy”, a vulnerable and honest pop tune, speaks about Dan trying to wrestle with his faith and to understand whether life after death is actually real or if it is something that someone just made up. This track is a heartbreaking melody of someone who has probably deconstructed his own faith- and though Dan is asking questions, we are presented with the genuine exploration of something real and tangible and evidence based. Dan on some level wants to know if the afterlife is real; however, this track has him concluding that we may never know, and that we all should ‘take it easy’ and show kindness to one another, despite differing beliefs. “Waves”, probably the most personal and emotional track on the album, speaks about a couple of Dan’s friends who have died recently, one who passed away because of a car crash and another who took his own life. With this melody being quite morbid and harrowing, Dan concludes that we should ‘…own all your tears and just roll with the waves, life, it could change, it could change in a day, so cherish your years and just roll with the waves, time doesn’t hear, so roll with the waves…’; a sentiment that can provide comfort, or could quite possibly make life seem more meaningless and pointless, depending on whether you believe life has a purpose or not. Conversely, “I’m Happy” is a positive, optimistic melody where Dan declares that he is happy- and it’s all because of his wife and their love for each other.
“Ferris Wheel” is an acoustic guitar pure love song at its core, with Dan through the persona telling his ex that they should return to each other because he would make her feel very special and that he could remind her of the incredible feeling they felt on the Ferris Wheel; while the depressing and woe-is-me introspective “Peace Of Mind” reveals that Dan can’t get any peace of mind- at least in this life where he is chasing material possessions and happiness based on fleeting and transient moments. It’s a melody that again, similar to songs like “Sharks” and “Bones”, doesn’t have a resolution… however Dan once again provides us with food for thought, and gently probes and asks the question of what will constitute something in our lives that will presumably give us peace of mind. “Sirens”, a 2-minute pop/rap melody, then expounds upon the theme of “Peace Of Mind”, as Dan details what exactly is keeping him from having a peace of mind- and that is the demons running around in his mind and the other mental health issues that he admits that he has. Dan also delves into the concept of two people growing apart from their romantic love, and falling more and more into platonic love, as “Tied” beautifully expresses change and reminds us all that just because people change, we can never fully escape them, as we are always tied to our first love or the one me may still love. But it will just be in a different way. Does “Tied” promote people divorcing each other? No, I don’t think it does. But this melody speaks about relationships shifting- and that is a part of life. the main thing is that sometimes you can be still close to your ex, and Dan in this song gives us permission to still feel strongly and care about someone who may not feel the same way about you.
“Younger”, a radio friendly melody, speaks about growing old and wishing that you were younger again, just so that you could enjoy life more and cherish things that you may have probably taken for granted earlier in life; and as Dan powerfully recounts that he longs to be in his prime and his hey-day again, the reality is that that can’t be the case, and so he has to learn to live with regret and instead focus on the remaining years that he has left. “I Wish”, an emotional, reflective lamentation of regret and grief, hits hard, and encourages us all to keep each other accountable, and to always remember to check up on the people in our lives that we love, cherish and value; while the penultimate track on Mercury: Acts 1 & 2 is “Continual” with Cory Henry. A gospel infused/R&B/pop melody that speaks about love and loyalty, with Dan outlining how he will always be faithful and true to his wife, and that he’ll be her continual truth; this track is a beautiful and sublime romantic love song that has this air of classiness and refinedness to it. Imagine Dragons then ends their album with “They Don’t Know You Like I Do”. Similar in theme to “I Wish” and “Waves”, Dan sings about the feelings of guilt that he couldn’t save his friend. He laments that it was too late to save his friend, and so he’ll spend his remaining time in his life telling the story of his friend, in an effort to help prevent suicide amongst young people.
Imagine Dragons was really formed upon teenage angst. Like it was me writing songs as a 22-year-old who’s stuck in a 16-year-old’s body of angsty depression, and that was the music, a lot of music I was raised on was kind of that, not emo, but very angsty. I loved Dashboard Confessional in middle school. That era of kind of angst. But I agree, I’ve gotten older and I kind of am still a fairly angsty, overly emotional person, but that’s just like every artist probably. As an artist you’re an overly sensitive person, so I’m very sensitive to people around me and my conversations, I could have a sad conversation then I’m sad. Or someone could walk into a room and they’re happy, and I’m suddenly happy, ’cause I’m very empathetic. So I think as I get older though, that’s certainly there still, but I agree when there’s a moment of irony or something, like “Sharks” is a very kind of ironic song. It’s like the world’s full of sharks but wait am I a shark too? But yeah, so when I am in that kind of mood, I really try to capture it immediately because more often than not, I’m not in that mood. So hopefully this record has a little bit of both. Even though it’s a record that’s primarily about death, it’s like post-death, Mercury-Act 1 is really focused on shock of death, dealing with someone close to you who died and suddenly like you’re questioning everything. Everything seems meaningless, every day could be your last. You’re like what the f**k? Like this person was here, now they’re not. As humans, we don’t want to think about death, we just push it out of our minds. But when it confronts you, when someone dies and you’re in the room with them, which is like the first time I had to face that, really shocked me. But Mercury-Act 2 is like post-death, it’s like the grief after it. Now it’s tomorrow. Now, what do you do? Do you just try to forget this person? That’s not gonna happen, so what are you gonna do? So it’s supposed to be a focus on life, I guess is what I was trying to get to. It’s like presence of now, so that’s the theme of Mercury-Act 2, which is like presence, post grief.
I listened to it [the album] last night ’cause it’s about to come out and it’s a lot for me to take in, one because a lot of the songs were written about dealing with death of my best friend who took his own life. It’s a little heavy for me still, ’cause it’s a little too close to home. And I think in a couple of years, I’ll be able to hear it with different ears. But then there’s a lot of romanticism on it, and there’s some nostalgia, there’s some emotions that it captured that I’m really proud of. Rick really pushed me lyrically to be more vulnerable than ever, and that was hard for me at first. And I think Mercury-Act 2 I feel more comfortable just being less metaphoric. A lot of my favorite songwriters of all time, like Cat Stevens or Paul Simon or Harry Nilsson, you always knew what they were talking about. Like you know what Paul Simon was talking about when he’s like, “A man walks down the street.” He’s just telling stories, and you’re not having to read through the lines with dense metaphors to be ultra poetic. There’s a time and a place, and that’s great, and there’s artists who do that. But the kind of music that I really resonate with, I know or I feel like I know what they’re talking about at least. That’s what Rick pushed me to do for better or for worse. And I hear that on this record.
Imagine Dragons in the past, would’ve been considered as 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: Acts 1 & 2, 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!
8 songs to listen to: Wrecked, #1, No Time For Toxic People, One Day, Waves, Younger, I Wish, They Don’t Know You Like I Do
RIYL: Paramore, Daughtry, Switchfoot, Needtobreathe, OneRepublic, U2, Twenty One Pilots, Sheppard