Though Imagine Dragons’ 2012 full-length debut, Night Visions, went double platinum and songs like “It’s Time” and “Radioactive” inhabited every radio nook and TV-promo cranny, the Las Vegas quartet still remains oddly anonymous. Blame their aversion to headline-grabbing behavior and their polyglot sound—an anthemic, frankly ambitious brand of rock that made it easy to dismiss them as corporate bandwagoneers. But anybody who witnessed the group on their never-ending Night Visions tour discovered a secret: Imagine Dragons are an exceptionally powerful live band, well capable of transcending the sometimes overstuffed nature of their studio productions.
As if to reinforce their arena-rock bona fides, the group’s sophomore effort scales back on the electronic frippery, revealing the tightly focused rock juggernaut they are on stage. One thing hasn’t changed: Smoke is rife with chest pounders destined for commercial ubiquity, particularly the majestic title track and the shimmering “Shots.” Frontman Dan Reynolds sings with the kind of fervor that can only be fueled by optimism, even when he’s self-flagellating. (The album’s very first line is “I’m sorry for everything I’ve done.”) That call-to-theheavens zeal can be wearying, but his Bono-channeling bellow remains preferable to his more lowwattage croon, which Reynolds busts out on Smoke’s sole sour note, the clumsily singsongy “Polaroid.” Imagine Dragons will probably always sound too blustery to those allergic to stadium tricks, but Smoke’s big-tent charm makes stock rock-playbook moves feel refreshingly new . B+