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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
The Observer

A deep dive into Imagine Dragons’ comeback singles

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What do church organs and whiteboard erasers have in common? Each is the intro to one of Imagine Dragons’ new twin singles “Follow You” and “Cutthroat.” After two years of waiting for the follow-up to 2018’s “Origins,” Imagine Dragons fans have gotten the double-single treatment as a teaser of the band’s upcoming album. 

“Follow You,” the first of the two singles, was described by lead singer Dan Reynolds as a song about “loyalty” and “sticking it out with whoever it is that you love.” Inspired by his reconnection and remarriage to singer Aja Volkman after the two had not spoken for over half a year, Reynolds sings “I’ll always be around wherever life takes you,” describing a love without expectations or demands. With its accompanying church organ and airy production, this song is the closest the Imagine Dragons will ever get to belonging on a wedding playlist.

“Cutthroat” is the polar opposite of “Follow You.” According to Reynolds, the song is “an exorcism of self-pity” in which he challenges his inner demons to a fight, saying “only one of us gon’ make it out alive and it’s not you.” The stomping beat, chaotic production and Reynolds’ vocal delivery take Imagine Dragons’ signature “underdog fights his way to the top” musical narrative to the next level.

Instrumentally, the two singles sound very similar to songs on the band’s 2015 album, “Smoke + Mirrors,” which fans generally agree was the band at its most experimental. In “Follow You,” the combination of the church organ with looming percussion slaps and an urgent tapping carves out a space for larger-than-life feelings of sincere connection. It harkens back to “Hopeless Opus,” an alt-rock ballad from “Smoke + Mirrors” that definitely should have been a single. In “Cutthroat,” the stomping percussion reminiscent of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” mixes with a cacophony of buzzing and scratching noises. Somehow, the end result manages to sound minimalistic, pushing Reynolds’ vocals into the spotlight.

Dan Reynolds has always been effective at catapulting his bandmates’ work to new heights with his vocal range and versatile delivery; once again, he delivers. In “Follow You,” he opts for relaxed vocals to let the production speak louder than his words. The song’s verses convey the love of someone who is comfortable with sharing every part of their being with another person; in the chorus, Reynold’s previously-airy vocals descend into a lower register, fully committing to the idea of honest love.

The transition to “Cutthroat” is a jarring experience. When the organ signals the end of “Follow You” and “Cutthroat” begins, the atmosphere undergoes an enormous shift. In contrast to the relaxed vocals of the first song, in the latter single, Reynolds really goes for what can only be described as choked whisper singing during the verses, which together with the production furnishes an anxious buildup that by the chorus gives way to bestial screams. The vocal delivery is simply phenomenal in immersing the listener in this final showdown of a song, and it is a fantastic soundbite for upcoming material.

Artist: Imagine Dragons

Singles: Follow You / Cutthroat

Label: Interscope

If you like: OneRepublic, Twenty One Pilots, Coldplay

Shamrocks: 3.5 out of 5