At some point while listening to Night Visions, jotting down notes for this review, I scribbled, "The Killers." I was mentally comparing Imagine Dragons' ambitious arena-ready sound to another well-known indie act from the Las Vegas area. Turns out the similarities don't end there.
Just as Killers frontman Brandon Flowers is an outspoken Mormon, so two members of Imagine Dragons hail from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well. "We're not a religious band," Mormon guitarist Wayne Sermon told bestoflasvegas.com in a 2012 interview. "[Singer] Dan [Reynolds] and I are religious people, and the other members are agnostic, so I think we come out somewhere in the middle."
That middle looks like this: This debut deliberates over spiritual issues of sin, demons, fallenness, heaven and hell while alternately flirting with and fighting off the mire of melancholy.
"Radioactive" is characteristic of the tone on Night Visions. On one hand, things are really, really bad. As in, apocalyptically bad: "I'm waking up to ash and dust/I wipe my brow and sweat my rust/I'm breathing in the chemicals/This is it, the apocalypse." On the other, we hear later that there's still a glimmer of hope: "All systems go/The sun hasn't died/ … I'm waking up." Similar stuff turns up on "It's Time": "Now it's time to build from the bottom of the pit/Right to the top/Don't hold back." Still, we hear that "the path to heaven runs through miles of clouded hell."
"Demons" also employs strong spiritual language, this time coming from a man who says his tormented soul is tangled in greed ("We are still made of greed/ … Don't get too close/It's dark inside/It's where my demons hide"), yet hopes his beloved might somehow lead him out of that spiritual wilderness ("I can't escape this now/Unless you show me how").
Opaque lyrics on "Amsterdam" address our tendency to downplay how badly we may really be doing ("Well, these days I'm fine/No, these days I tend to lie"). A man promises a woman who's perhaps on the verge of leaving him that he intends to stay the course in their relationship on "Every Night." "On Top of the World" counsels seizing the moment and telling those close to you that you love them ("If you love somebody/Better tell them why they're here 'cause/They may just run away from you/ … Then again it just depends on/How long of time is left for you").
Philosophical album closers "Working Man" and "Fallen" are glass-half-full/half-empty affairs that could be construed as either positive or positively depressing. The former wonders if there's more to life than just working and spending money. The latter fixates on humanity's fallenness, as its title implies: "Brothers, sisters, the ending is coming/We are fallen, we are fallen/Now we're just gonna ride it out." Note that while we are living in a fallen world, whether "riding it out" is a statement of optimism or futility is open to speculation.
"Hear Me" cozies up to the idea that viewing one's accidental death as a good thing after a painful breakup: "You can leave, it's your choice/Maybe if I fall asleep, I won't breathe right/Maybe if I leave tonight, I won't come back." The song perhaps alludes to a woman as a passionate, experienced partner ("You kiss and you kiss/And you love and you love/You've got a history list"), contrasted with his coldness ("And if you're warm, you can't relate to me").
Self-loathing creeps onto "Every Night" ("I can hardly stand myself/So what am I to you?") Futility permeates the brief "Rocks" ("Why can't I see what's right in front of me?/We fall/We fall apart"). "Bleeding Out" is a grim, ambiguous song about a dying relationship; we hear, "Oh, you tell me to hold on/But innocence is gone/And what was right is wrong/'Cause I'm bleeding out/So if the last thing that I do/Is bring you down/I'll bleed for you/So I bare my skin/And I count my sins/And I close my eyes and I take it in."
Likewise, "Nothing Left to Say" explores the hopeless emotions of a man who's capitulated in the face of struggle: "There's nothing left to say now/I'm giving up, giving up, giving up/ … Below my soul/I feel an engine/Collapsing as it sees the pain." There's a reference to seeking salvation of some sort ("If you could only save me/I'm drowning in the waters of my soul"), but the overall vibe of the song focuses more on the drowning than being miraculously rescued.
In his review of Night Visions for thinkchristian.net, John J. Thompson writes, "Though there are no obvious references to God, or Joseph Smith for that matter, [Imagine Dragons] is conspicuous by what is missing: sex, rebellion, nihilism, selfishness and moping."
Well, maybe not the moping part. Songs in which we hear from people hoping to die accidentally and in which they say they're giving up and bleeding out load up this album with a decidedly bleak vibe at times. But hints of hope, redemption and salvation do lurk and may prompt some listeners to imagine living life beyond the bad, bad, bad.