A creative rebirth catalyzed by their first six-month sabbatical in five years, Imagine Dragons’ dynamic third album, Evolve, received a Grammy nomination and sired three huge international hits. The break clearly re-energized the Las Vegas quartet: they wrote and rehearsed the songs for their fourth album, Origins, during the year-long trek in support of Evolve, which kicked off in September 2017.
“It feels like the sister album to Evolve”
“We were on the road relentlessly for 400 days,” frontman Dan Reynolds told Music Week in 2018, adding, “and we changed during that time because you grow as a human being while you travel.
“So we had these songs we created after Evolve,” he continued. “At first, we thought we could wait a couple of years like bands are supposed to, but by then it’s going to be irrelevant to us because we’re going to be in a different place. So we thought, well this is a new world of music, why don’t we put it out now? It feels like the sister album to Evolve. It kind of completes the cycle for us.”
On a roll, the band returned to the studio for sessions during downtime from their Evolve tour in the first half of 2018. They were joined by several different producers, including longtime collaborator Alex Da Kid and Swedish duo Mattman & Robin, who had previously helmed Evolve’s initial hit, “Believer.”
Reynolds and his team emerged with a feverishly eclectic bunch of material. With their stomping, stadium-friendly choruses, “Natural” and the defiant “Machine” (“I’ve been wondering when you’re gonna see I’m not for sale”) quickly marked their territory out as potential standalone singles, though elsewhere the tracklist zig-zagged wildly from the explosive, drum’n’bass-tinged “Digital” to the bucolic, mandolin-flecked folk-pop of “West Coast” and the poignant, neo-hymnal ballad “Love.”
“It identifies some of the issues unique to this generation”
To his credit, Reynolds also continued to address deeply personal issues like depression and mental health on songs such as “Bad Liar” and “Zero.” Though allied to the most straight-ahead, radio-friendly rock track on Origins, the latter song – which also featured in Disney’s animated film Ralph Breaks The Internet – included some of Reynolds’ most poignant lyrics yet (“Let me show you what it’s like to never feel/Like I’m not good enough for anything that’s real”), delivered with an unstinting passion.
“It’s a pretty timely movie in a lot of ways in that it addresses some of the issues of identity and loneliness unique to this internet generation,” Reynolds said at the time of the film’s release, in November 2018. “Ralph’s internal struggle for self-acceptance really resonated with us, and this song speaks to that.”
“Zero”’s lyrics also spoke volumes to Imagine Dragons’ burgeoning fanbase, with the song climbing to No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 prior to Origins’ release. Promoted with a memorably Gothic, Tim Burton-esque video, the album’s second single, “Natural,” also peaked inside the Top 20 of the Hot 100, while its third, “Bad Liar,” went on to become a substantial European hit.
“Pushing the messages that matter”
First released on November 9, 2018, 10 days before Imagine Dragons completed their Evolve world tour, Origins hit the ground running and picked up some of the band’s most positive press to date. In one particularly cogent review, UK broadsheet The Independent declared it “further proof of Dan Reynolds’ songwriting capabilities and also his ambition when it comes to pushing the messages that matter.”
That last observation rang especially true when Origins raced up the charts around the world. Keeping the Nevadan quartet intimately acquainted with their global public, the album went Top 10 in numerous territories, including the UK, where it peaked at No. 9 and has since gone silver. Back home, meanwhile, Origins debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, chalking up Imagine Dragons’ fourth successive US Top 10 and proving that there’s still room in the charts for great rock bands, providing they’ve got a forward-thinking approach and a universal appeal.
“Imagine Dragons is more than just a band,” Dan Reynolds said in a YouTube video introducing Origins’ arrival. “It’s a culture, and a community and lots of other things we’re involved with and mean a lot to us. Origins feels just right now we’re ten years into our career. It shows where we’re going and that we’ve got a great future.”