Album Review: “Smoke + Mirrors” by Imagine Dragons

Imagine Dragons released “Smoke + Mirrors” in February 2015, their second studio album, followed by their first and highly successful “Night Visions” that included “Radioactive” and “Demons.”

Imagine Dragons is an alternative rock band, some of their songs containing electronica and special effects. They also have some indie and some pop to their sound. Somehow their music manages to be both futuristic and nostalgic all at once.

Lead singer, Dan Reynolds, has a very strong, powerful, and passionate voice. Reynolds has been vocal about how therapy has saved his life. And it wasn’t until 2015 when he opened up about his autoimmune disorder, something he used to feel ashamed of but now understands the importance of spreading awareness to help others, especially the millions who are undiagnosed.

This album holds great importance to me: containing a recurring theme of remorse, forgiveness, and redemption. The term ‘smoke and mirrors’ is used to describe illusions and magic — how nothing is what it appears to be. There are many dark themes here but ultimately it brings a sense of peace and hope.

Also this album really reminds me of fall, and I do have two of their songs on my Autumn Playlist.

1. Shots

From the second that I was born
It seems I had a loaded gun
And then I shot, shot, shot a hole through everything I loved

This is about feeling very self-destructive and ruining everything that is meant for you, feeling that you are always messing things up and handling things the wrong way. It sounds quite synth-pop and lively.

2. Gold

First comes the blessing of all that you’ve dreamed
But then comes the curses of diamonds and rings
Only at first did it have its appeal
But now you can’t tell the false from the real

This is very much about magic and illusions. This could be about achieving fortune and fame, and wondering who really cares about you or who is using you for what you have. It can also relate to having any desire of yours coming true, and feeling unsure of reality, because you never believed this could happen to you.

3. Smoke + Mirrors

I want to believe
But all that I know
Is it just smoke and mirrors?

The following song holds a similar message, of struggling to have faith in your reality. It’s a type of paranoia that makes you question whether things are actually going well, or if it’s all in your head. The melody blends together very smoothly.

4. I’m So Sorry

So you gotta fire up, you gotta let go
You’ll never be loved till you’ve made your own
You gotta face up, you gotta get yours
You never know the top till you get too low

The title is very deceiving and this is actually quite and angry and fed-up song. This can be a reflection, possibly upon childhood, of expressing bitterness and the sense of getting knocked around by the world.

5. I Bet My Life

Now remember when I told you that’s the last you’ll see of me
Remember when I broke you down to tears
I know I took the path that you would never want for me
I gave you hell through all the years

Truly one of my favorites, very up-lifting. This tells the story of someone who has done a lot of wrong and pushed away the person they loved. But they have reached a point where they can no longer lie to themselves, and they realize the hurt they have caused, so now they want to dedicate their whole life to this person.

6. Polaroid

All my life I’ve been living in the fast lane
Can’t slow down
I’m a rollin’ freight train
One more time
Gotta start all over
Can’t slow down
I’m a lone red rover

I also really like this one. This seems to describe someone who is anxious and constantly on-the-go, who has a gap in their heart that they try to fill with distractions. They find themselves fantasizing over either a specific person, or simply a general idealized relationship, that seems so unattainable and unrealistic. “Love is a polaroid” because it’s just an image that looks nice, it’s not real.

7. Friction

You can’t fight the friction
So ease it off
Can’t take the pressure
So ease it off

This is a tremendously anxious song about feeling on-edge and having panic attacks, the weight of the world on your shoulders.

8. It Comes Back To You

It comes back to you, it comes back to you
All the things that you had lost will find their way in you
It comes back to you, it comes back to you
Looking back into the past and I can see it through

I adore this song and it has gotten me through many stressful and disheartening times. Whatever you have lost — it will come back to you. When you have a falling out with a good friend, they will be back again someday… when you lose a great lover, they will come back to you… and if this person never returns, then the energy will return to you in another’s body. There is no such thing as loss, because energy cannot be created nor destroyed. Very often people do reunite with each other, and if this person has passed away or completely moved on, then that energy will return to you some way or another.

9. Dream

And all these sorrows I have seen
They lead me to believe
That everything’s a mess
But I wanna dream
I wanna dream
Leave me to dream

This describes how crushing reality is, and how much suffering there is in the world. But it’s about preferring to ignore it all, instead, choosing to live in your head and believing in your own fantasies. Slow piano medley.

10. Trouble

So pray for me brother
I need redemption
I’m just a man
A man on a mission
I want no trouble
I want no trouble

It feels like someone who has been through a lot, and experienced a lot, and they are ready for more — but being much wiser now, they want to make smart decisions. They do not want to pay debt for the naiveness of their past, instead, to move on and achieve greatness.

11. Summer

A fire burns into you purifying gold
But what I saw was opulence
And that’s not for me

There is examination of a relationship and it seems short-lived, like a summer romance, because there is no concrete substance within this person.

12. Hopeless Opus

I’m in this race and I’m hoping just to place
Oh I’m trying not to face what’s become of me
My hopeless opus

Excellent flute playing. The meaning to this song has a lot of depth and I can’t really put it into one short paragraph, but there is a lot to dissect. There’s “Mr. Cage Man,” “Mr. Fate Man,” “Mr. Safe Man,” and “Mr. Post Man” — all types of people or concepts that impose limits. “Opus” refers to work of art, so “hopeless opus” seems to represent the creative struggle.

13. The Fall

I’m ready for the fall
I’m ready for everything that I believed in to
Drift away
Ready for the leaves
Ready for the colors to burn to gold
And crumble away

This is a beautiful masterpiece; it must be listened to from start to finish with no interruption. Previous tracks describe the urge to hide from reality, the anxiety of illusions being shattered, and the fear of your happiness being a deception. But here, you are ready to let go. Your faith is so strong that even if the whole world comes crashing down, or the pain of reality smacks you in the face, you are completely sure of the true love you have for someone — which is all you need.

DELUXE TRACKS

14. Thief

And all the heights
That I could reach
Back when I was unafraid
Just like a thief

The meaning here is how the less you know, the braver you are. As you grow older, you worry more, knowing and experiencing all the things that can go wrong. The thief steals because they haven’t yet been caught.

15. The Unknown

Sooner or later it all comes around
Hopefully then I will see
After the people and places are gone
You will come back, you will come back to me

This song is about having faith that someone you have lost will come back to you, as they will grow tired of the novelty of the world and realize who they belong with.

16. Second Chances

I get older and life fades but you remain
Open up again I believe in second chances
Please let me in, oh I believe in second chances

This sounds like weakness, surrender, and heavy hopelessness. Using the very slim energy that’s left, you beg for a second chance. As the song progresses, it becomes stronger.

17. Release

Heaven talks but not to me
‘Cause heaven knows that nothing good comes free
Desolation tragedy

The melody is more stripped down and acoustic. It’s about disappointing yourself.

18. Warriors

Here we are, don’t turn away now
We are the warriors that built this town
From dust.

Very empowering, victorious, and high-spirited!

19. Battle Cry

Just one more time before I go
I’ll let you know
That all this time I’ve been afraid
Wouldn’t let it show

This is literally like going into battle! It captures putting on a brave face when it’s your only option. The melody starts off slow and progresses into heavy metal.

20. Monster

If I told you what I was,
Would you turn your back on me?
And if I seem dangerous,
Would you be scared?

“Monster” is like a sequel to “Demons.” None of us are perfect angels, and I think we all have demons inside of us, or we all feel like monsters at times. I think we all have different types of demons, and one person may not understand yours, while another could fully accept and love your darkness unconditionally. It’s terrifying to reveal yourself so deeply, taking the risk that this person may judge you or not.

21. Who We Are

It’s who we are
Doesn’t matter if we’ve gone too far
Doesn’t matter if it’s all okay
Doesn’t matter if it’s not our day

This feels like having a lot of power, and having enough confidence that it’s irrelevant whether people criticize you harshly or look up to you with praise. You embrace your power because you know what’s right.


And thus concludes the record.

“Smoke + Mirrors” is self-reflective and wise; it is also destructive and chaotic at the same time. There is suspicion and paranoia, coupled with an ongoing effort of clinging into faith. Most of all, there is a sense of refusing to give up, even while right on the verge of exploding.

Illusions seem to be an integral part of the human experience. Disconnection from reality can be something that we choose, when the world is too harsh. But what about when the opposite happens, and everything seems to be going right? In that case, you question reality, and you wonder if your perception is completely twisted.

It’s a shame that we are so quick to accept negativity, yet so untrusting and weary of the positive. We shoot bullets at the things and people we love, believing that they are the enemy. Our childhood wounds are imprinted on us and prevent us from believing we deserve happiness. We build someone up and believe that they’re a perfect masterpiece, while we look in the mirror and call ourselves ugly monsters. Instead of surrendering to anxiety, we continue to resist it — thus creating even more anxiety. We are crazy humans, living in fun houses full of black mirrors.

Yet still, there are those rare moments of bliss. That teeny, tiny spark of hope keeps us going. For a second, things become totally clear. We realize how much harm we have caused and ask for forgiveness. Life truly is a battle, but instead of continuing to battle one another, or battle with ourselves, we must fight against these illusions.

11 thoughts on “Album Review: “Smoke + Mirrors” by Imagine Dragons

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