I first heard Imagine Dragons in late January on XMU on XM Radio. “It’s Time” was introduced with a small warning by the DJ that the band was probably going to be a big deal at some point in 2012. It was a far better than average pop-friendly radio song with a great hook. At that time, the band hadn’t even released their Continued Silence EP. I downloaded the album as soon as it was released — I like to be ahead of the curve (read: I like to be the asshole telling you about this great new band of which you’ve never heard) – and shared it with my wife, who was smitten… if you couldn’t tell by her guest bl-ggery here.
As time went on and my wife and I grew older and greyer (second children will do that. It’s an alarmingly accelerated decline), Imagine Dragons just kept popping up. She’d been pushing the album to any of her friends that would listen. It’s tremendous alt-pop music, but worthy bands just don’t necessarily get a fair shake. We expected very little out of their career trajectory. My three-year-old daughter could pretty much sing along with each of their six songs, for whatever that’s worth. (She’s actually a very good judge of the next big thing. She knew all the words to Gotye before he became big, too.) Anyway, I felt similarly about Remy Zero’s career trajectory. And whatever happened to Remy Zero? (Okay, so they provided the theme from Smallville, and appeared on a number of soundtracks, which is something, but did you honestly remember the name of the band that opened Smallville?) Their third album The Golden Hum was an alt-rock masterpiece and a highlight of that barren musical landscape immediately post-2K. The album was so well received that after that album they broke up.
But back to Imagine Dragons… their songs started getting more and more airtime on XM after the release of the EP. And then the bomb drops. Their music starts showing up movie trailers for major release films like “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “Frankenweenie,” in commercials, American Idol promos. Glee just covered “It’s Time” in the season opener. This band was anonymous five months ago. But why the meteoric rise? What’s the secret? And why am I no longer special for knowing the band Imagine Dragons?
I pondered these questions as I crammed into Altar Bar on Thursday to catch my first Imagine Dragons show. Imagine Dragons, who were opening for Awolnation, a band whose fame they’d eclipsed over the duration of one little tour. At the beginning, relatively unknown. At the end, the main attraction. And yes, we left after Imagine Dragons. I was hungry and wanted to go drink. It was my birthday after all. (Happy birthday to me.)
You’ll be happy to know that I’ve solved the success of Imagine Dragons.
Ready? It’s the bigass, motherflippin’ bass drum.
That’s it. Take a gander.
If you’re familiar with the band you’ll know that Dan Reynolds, the lead singer, beats on a bass drum at the front of the stage while he’s singing. If you’re not familiar with the band, I just told you by not telling you. Nice, right? There’s been a swell of lead singers who are more than just frontmen, but most of these guys are firmly contained within the straightjacket genre label “indie-rock.” Rarely do they branch out into pop-music proper.
For pop-music Reynolds is a kind of novelty. He’s an affable, humble chap on stage. He (and the rest of the band) seemed positively overwhelmed by their rapid success. (They’re even still setting their own stage and doing soundchecks.) Reynolds comes off as a less-glam, more everyday Brandon Flowers (The Killers). That they’re both Mormon probably has much to do with the favorable comparison in presentation and personality. But all of this might be irrelevant if he didn’t beat a motherflippin’ bass drum. Singer-only frontmen maintain an air of otherworldliness. They must do this to justify the fact that they only sing and often barely do that. Their gift is their stage persona. See Bono, Mick Jagger, et al. Nobody cares that they don’t play an instrument. But these are the greats, the once-in-a-generation rock gods. Their bands, however, are just guys with instruments. Follow this logic with me. If you saw Bono and Larry Mullen walking down the street together, who would you be more comfortable chatting up? Larry Mullen, of course. He’s no god. He’s just a guy that plays in a band fronted by a crazytown rock god.
There are so many different bands and kinds of music and distractions that without something unique to call their own, a talented band will more toil in anonymity than reach any measure of commercial success. Critical success, perhaps, but not commercial. Reynolds’ drum breaks down the barrier between the singer and his fans. He’s a singer, but he’s also just a guy that intermittently gets taken up in the moment and decides to unleash fury on some mylar (the material of which drum heads are most likely made – the more you know, eh?). When he’s singing and suddenly takes up the mallet, there’s a swell of excitement among the crowd. The anticipation of the drum beating is unmistakable. For these songs he gets the loudest applause and the most crowd love. For someone first seeing or listening to Imagine Dragons, the communal adulation at these shows will sell records. It is a novelty, sure, but it is also greatly entertaining and displays the dude’s sincere passion for the music. Because nothing says sincere passion like a winded, sweaty human beating a bass drum with all the fiber in his being.
I have some reservations about the band growing too big for these more intimate live shows. Imagine Dragons doesn’t embrace arena-rock in the same way the Killers do. Their sound, while poppy, and occasional quite possibly rocking, might get swallowed up by larger crowds and venues. The bass drum might lose its prestige as the centerpiece of their show. In a small venue, the drum commands the room. And if the bass drum loses its prestige, it’s on Dan Reynolds to make up the distance.
Oh, and there’s also the music… because there’s probably (just maybe) people into Imagine Dragons that haven’t seen a live show. Valid argument. Again, the element that sets their music apart… the bass drum. Beating a bass drum with a mallet rather than using it in a drum kit creates such a distinctly different sound and cadence. Take the drum out of Imagine Dragons what do you have left? Solid pop-music but no live drama. And no drama means no trailer spots, no commercial gigs and no more meeting Hermoine at the VMAs.
“It’s Time” kicks in at the 1:40 mark.
The magical thing about “It’s Time” is that Reynolds’ beats nary a drum. But how many of these A+ pop songs can he write? The perfect pop soundbite. Maybe he only needs one to launch a career, but that won’t speak to the longevity of the band. It’s the B-sides where a band proves its worth. And, so far, it’s on the B-sides (being any song other than “It’s Time” at this point) that the drum carries its weight. See “Radioactive” or ‘Demons.”
In conclusion, and because I’m out of words for today, a picture of Emma Watson. Just because she’s the closest thing we’ve seen to Audrey Hepburn since Audrey Hepburn.