Closing Out 2018 with the Struts and Imagine Dragons

Winding down in an uninspiring and worn-out fashion, 2018 was a mixed bag for new album releases, particularly for rock ’n’ roll. It’s easy to look to the most recent batch of Grammy nominations and see it was a positive year for hip-hop, but most of the rest of the industry found itself treading water—artistically and commercially—especially in the fall and into the early weeks of winter.

The final Billboard Rock chart from 2018 confirms this. Discounting reissues and soundtracks, and pulling only from new, original content, Imagine Dragons’ Origins and Panic! at the Disco’s Pray for the Wicked were the only LPs to crack the top five. That’s troubling, given Pray for the Wicked came out last June.

What I’ve experienced from a boots-on-the-ground standpointscanning the new records in brick-and-mortar shops, attending a variety of live shows, and sampling newly released singles—fits my mood entering the new year: there’s room for improvement. However, one album, released in October, sticks out like a blast of sunshine on a wintry, overcast day where it’s dark by 5 p.m. Enter the Struts’ Young & Dangerous.

The Struts

The Struts. Photo by Catie Laffoon

To experience the Struts’ newest album visually, think George Clooney from Ocean’s 11 gambling-and-heist chic meets Freddie Mercury with a group of friends who really know how to dress and play instruments in the twenty-first century. Viewers of the 2018 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show last month got to see this come to life, as vocalist Luke Spiller, drummer Gethin Davies, bassist Jed Elliott, and guitarist Adam Slack closed the show, performing “Body Talks” and “In Love with a Camera.”

Mixing modern themes and sensibilities with a heavy peppering of glam rock and everything that still feels right and marketable about 1970s and ’80s rock ’n’ roll, the Struts’ second LP radiates catchy melodies, energetic riffs, and lots of sex appeal. From “Body Talks,” produced by Jon Levine and Lauren Christy, to “Primadonna Like Me” and “In Love with a Camera,” which were both produced by Ray Hedges with Nigel Butler, the album is bold, edgy, and just plain fun. Whether it’s Spiller rolling his r’s or Slack finding that perfect tone as he bursts into a guitar solo, the whole LP, released by Interscope Records, packs a fresh punch. “Bulletproof Baby” in particular bruises deep with its lyrics: “They stab the knife and twist / The color of these lips / They say we’re just a bunch of fakes, just wait.” The album even comes with a second cut of “Body Talks,” featuring pop-star Kesha as a guest vocalist to complement Spiller’s roaring pipes.

There are comparisons to be made between the Struts, who formed in England, and Queen, though there’s a sharp contrast that makes the Struts their own entity, rather than an imitation. This makes Young & Dangerous a worthy sophomore album from a band that spent 2018 touring with the Foo Fighters and headlining their own tour, which garnered praise as they filled mid-sized venues across the country, including the Mainroom at First Avenue in Minneapolis.

The cover to "Young & Dangerous" by the Struts, their second LP.

The cover for Young & Dangerous, the Struts’ second LP. Interscope Records

When considering Imagine Dragons’ newest album, Origins, released from Kidinakorner with Interscope Records, I can’t help but wonder if the band decided to hit the pause button on development after releasing Evolve a year ago. Rolling Stone labeled Origins as being comparable to milquetoast on the creative side. I can’t help but think that’s the perfect comparison, as the record plays like an imitation of previous Las Vegas–based Dragons’ songs. Embracing EDM, Evolve offered a new flavor and a twist on the group’s signature rock-pop sound. The new record, meanwhile, was meant to be a sister album to Evolve but feels more like a collection of rejects that didn’t make the cut in 2017.

Dan Reynolds and the gang are back, and much of Origins and its 15 tracks lacks cohesion and grades out as commercial pop that’s meant to retain existing fans while the band cranks out sing-along hits, anthems, and tunes for Hollywood projects. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially when considering tracks like “Natural,” and “Zero,” which fit the band’s image and tone like a glove. They’re easy to digest and simple to plug into the group’s headlining concert series. “West Coast” is folksy with a modest acoustic progression; there’s individuality and flavor, but it’s difficult to piece together the rest of the disjointed record.

The cover to "Origins," Imagine Dragons' fourth studio-length album.

The cover to Origins, Imagine Dragons’ fourth studio-length album. Interscope Records

Overall, there’s just isn’t much new or different to Origins. It’s a speed bump that shouldn’t slow the band for long, especially since their previous records have all gone platinum. Maybe they’ll take a bit of a pause and really consider their musical progression before pushing out their next record. With four LPs going back to 2012, there’s no rush. It’s time to consider legacy rather than quantity.

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