Imagine Dragons - Natural’ & ‘Zero’

Imagine Dragons - credit Nolan Knight.jpg

Imagine Dragons are back with two new singles preceding their recently announced fourth album, ‘Origins’, follow up to 2016’s Gold certified ‘Evolve’: ‘Natural’, a rock-fuelled endeavour of epic proportions, full of a seething rage over a brooding and raw instrumental backing, and it’s mirror image, ‘Zero’, taken from the upcoming Disney film, Ralph Breaks The Internet- a soft and oddly charming number about being downtrodden in life and trying to escape being a ‘zero’ in life- both metaphorically, in escaping feelings of worthlessness, and literally, in the case of the binary code of the arcade characters.

Imagine Dragons need no introduction- hailing from Las Vegas, Nevada, they are Dan Reynolds, Wayne Sermon, Daniel Platzman and Ben McKee. Their first album, ‘Night Visions’, spawned two monumental hit singles, the anthemic ‘Radioactive’- which won the Grammy for Best Rock Performance in 2014-and the contemplative and soulful ‘Demons’; both of which spent more than 60 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. Following on from this is their sophomore album ‘Smoke + Mirrors’, which resulted in two shows at London’s The O2 Arena- a big step up from their last two London shows at the O2 academy Brixton- and their most recent offering, ‘Evolve’, which produced the ferocious ‘Believer’, peaked at the top of both the US Rock Album chart and the US Alternative Album chart, as well as third in UK album charts. Presently, they are the eighth most listened to band in the world on Spotify- and if these singles are any indication, the dragons are set to soar to new heights.

First, ‘Natural’. ‘Natural’ is exciting, almost dangerous in its sound- it echoes the pain of Transformers’ ‘Battle Cry’, the darkness of ‘Radioactive’ and the anger of ‘Warriors’ whilst being wholly it’s own track. Opening with a gentle harmony from the band, it quickly escalates into feral drums, passionate cries of triumph and anger, and a deceptively quiet third verse culminating in a screaming acclimation that he’s ‘gonna make it’. According to Dan Reynolds, the song is about becoming a little ruthless, or callous, as time progresses- realising you have to stand up for yourself. Ruthless is right- lyrically, the song doesn’t hold back, telling the listener ‘you’ve got to be so cold/ to make it in this world’. More than this, however, the song explores themes closer to Dan’s heart, with lyrics such as ‘will heaven step in?/ will it save us from our sin?’ arguably being about the religious conflicts he has been a part of- namely, the divide between his being a devout Mormon, and his being a staunch believer in LGBTQ rights, which is condemned by the Church of LTS; most recently, this support has been seen in the 2018 Loveloud festival-which Imagine Dragons headlined, along with Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park and Tyler Glenn of Neon Trees- the profits of which worked to benefit LGBTQ charities. In addition to grappling his beliefs, however, the song also seems to tackle his pain- more specifically, the recent divorce of Dan Reynolds and his wife of seven years Aja Volkman. Rather than the contemplative reminiscing seen in their Kygo collaboration ‘Born To Be Yours’, though, ‘Natural’ is about hardening your heart and fighting the obstacles and adversities which life throws at you. As a song it is brilliant- but as the lead single of their upcoming fourth album, it takes on a life of its own. 

Which leads nicely onto ‘Zero’, an interesting follow-up and the second single of ‘Origins’. Zero is just as lyrically dark and foreboding as ‘Natural’- possibly more so, with subtle references to suicide found in the reference to the aptly named ‘27 club’, featuring famous musicians who died at the age of 27, such as Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain; at 27, Dan Reynolds joked about becoming a member before sophomore album ‘Smoke + Mirrors’. Similarly, notes of depression are frequently found throughout, with the chorus of ‘let me show you what it’s like to always feel... like I’m empty’ and ‘never feel like I’m good enough for anything’. Not all of it is negative however. The bridge- ‘let me tell you ‘bout it... maybe you’re the same as me’ seems to be a cry for help- not from Imagine Dragons, but on behalf of the countless people suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts and yet refuse to share it with others or seek help; Reynolds has been candid about his own battles with depression for the same reason, to combat the stigma placed on mental illnesses. Nevertheless, the song is surprisingly dark for what is also one of the lead songs for the second Wreck-It Ralph film; yet this lyrical hopelessness is hidden behind a joyous, upbeat facade. Ostensibly, the facade reflects the facade put up by those suffering from similar thoughts- pretending everything is fine so as not to worry anyone. However, it might instead be merely an attempt to alleviate the pain; by finding the moments in life which bring enjoyment and relishing them, holding on to them and remembering that, as Reynolds put midway through the band’s performance of their hit single ‘Demons’ during their concert at Madison Square Garden, ‘there is light up ahead. Life is always worth living’. By having the song upbeat whilst battling with the darker themes, it reflects how life can still improve even whilst suffering. 

In essence, the two songs reflect polar opposite sounds of the band, yet retain the same lyrical relevance and thematic complexities which often feature in Imagine Dragons’ music. If these signify what is to come in ‘Origins’, Imagine Dragons have yet more fiery successes to come.

Words by James O’Sullivan