Imagine Dragon’s fifth studio effort is as mixed as their past four records. The record is composed of both intended stadium-rock anthems and more personal tracks that seem to get at the heart of the original vision for the record. Mercury Act 1 is a more personal take from the quartet, however not far enough removed from their past works to be significant.
Instrumentally, Mercury Act 1 is not far from their established sound. The mixed instrumentals, ranging from string sections to electric guitars, are immediately identifiable as Imagine Dragon’s staple sound. At times, instruments are set aside for computer generated beats and instrumentals that often seem generic and bland. At its worst the record seems impersonal and unpleasant. At best, the record channels elements from R&B in songs like “#1” and combines them with the Dragon’s own sound, for better or worse.
The songs on the record all sound carefully produced, sometimes to a fault. More often than not, tracks on the record sound like an assault of voice tracks combined with thundering drum machines that fail to convey the energy behind Dan Reynolds’ now iconic yelling. This is evident in songs like “Giants”, a low point in the album.
Mercury falls into the trap of sounding like a collection of radio-bait songs that come across as uninspired and empty. This is not to say that some songs are not catchy and pleasant. Like their past efforts, Reynolds and company succeed in crafting a not-too-deep fist-pumping catalogue of high energy songs that will undoubtedly make it into the mainstream.
Thematically, the record deals with very serious topics like death, mental health and inner struggles. This is perhaps the record at its best. The lyrics in the Mercury reflect a more mature approach to writing. Although they retain the in-your-face sound that has defined them, lyrically they seemed to have taken a step forward when compared to what they have done in the past.
Mercury is far from perfect. There is a discernible duality in the album between the new directions the band wanted to go in and the sound that has defined them. Often compared to bands like Nickelback, Imagine Dragons unfortunately falls in the category of generic and cookie-cutter-like song structures and sound. Mercury displays this problematic pattern of songs that sound all too similar to each other.
Aside from the more evident issues with Mercury Act 1 and Imagine Dragons, the record is also diminished by another underlying factor: a lack of identity. Front man Reynolds and the rest of the band have struggled to describe the type of music they play. Both fans and band members agree that their sound is not entirely Rock or Pop, or any other genre for that matter. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is in this case. Their failure to define their sound within concrete parameters comes across in the record in the form of disjointed and shapeless sound and feel.
Just like their past records, Mercury suffers from the same issues. The record fails to become anything more than over-produced radio-friendly songs meant for car commercials on TV despite some welcome attempts at more personal songs. The record is not sure what it wants to be and unfortunately fails at most things it attempts. There are some saving graces in the form of songs like “#1” and “No Time for Toxic People.” Nonetheless, said songs are nothing more than their past hits repackaged and rehashed, fresh from the musical assembly line. Mercury is another studio effort that falls flat but will undeniably receive air time and attention by casual fans.