Mercury - Act 1 is the fifth album from Imagine Dragons, my brother's favorite band, with the album catching me by surprise as it perfectly captures how it feels to lose everything you love, leading yourself to lose yourself. The album moves away from the generic sounds we've known them to recycle over the years, serving as a compilation of 'golden sounds', sounds that stay true to their roots while sounding gorgeous. You feel like you're falling down an endless pit, dealing with addiction and loss, having stuffed emotions deep down over the years, eventually self-destructing as each and every emotion you've faced over the last few years flow out, slowly starting the process of building up yourself all over again.
Everything you love is what makes you up so what are you without what you love? Nothing? Usually when you depend on a substance too heavily, you face an identity crisis as you're not sure about who you are without that substance, exactly what 'My Life' is about. Dan struggles to love himself as his dependence on the substance, probably alcohol or a drug, has caused him to wonder if he can truly live without the substance, seeming to feel like that the substance is know a part of him and that he's nothing without the substance. He knows that his addiction towards the substance could end up killing him, making him wonder if he's truly living his own life and is in control of his decisions or if the drug has taken over control from him. Dan's vocals start off delicate, painting a tragic picture of his addiction towards the drug, with his vocals on the chorus being thunderous, having a wobble to them as you can hear the struggle that he faces to push past his addiction. On the second verse, he admits that his addiction has gone too far and that he's starting to lose hope for things to return to normal as he can't help but continue to feed his addictions. The production on the track is perfect, with the piano sounding so pretty as it starts off the song, while, a synthesizer that sparkles just like a starry sky supports the piano, with the electronic piano and strings adding to the dark, bleak atmosphere. A gorgeous guitar secondary instrumental comes on along with a faster-paced drum pattern, coming together to create an amazing climax after the refrain. A really nice refrain shows Dan reflecting on how he's survived through the loss of loved ones, thinking about the people who still love him, finding motivation to fight the addiction as he realizes that he isn't going to get a second chance at life.
Withdrawals of drugs or the loss of a loved one can cause loneliness which is what 'Lonely' is about, being quite different to anything I've heard from the band before, creating the chaos that creeps up into your head that comes along with being all alone, with the music. Dan sings about how he feels alone and anxious even when he's surrounded by a crowd as the drugs were what were keeping him company since his addiction had started and since they're now gone, he feels lonely. He tries to shake off the feeling by sleeping, knowing he's close to relapsing but he pushes past those thoughts and seeks mercy for the mistakes he's made, wanting to get rid of the loneliness. The production is vibrant, creating the chaos using a variety of vocal counter melodies/vocal counterparts, seeming to drive Dan crazy, while the use of drums is creative as it's got a soft, sandy sound it that fits fantastically with the chaos. Dan's vocals on the track sound panicked, not fitting the track perfectly, but still sounding decent as he goes above and beyond in a few areas to sound like he's loosing his mind, with his vocal stretching being spectacular on the track. The different layers come together in a lovely manner, with the bridge having even more background vocals, adding to the chaos, giving us an idea of what Dan's going through mentally through this phase as he works hard to fight the temptation of returning to the drugs.
We move on to my favorite single to 'Mercury Act-1', 'Wrecked', being about how the loss of his sister in law has left him in a darker hole than he was in before. To start the track off on the first verse, Dan talks about memories he shared with her, reminiscing on the way she talked, walked, and everything she taught him. He continues by adding how she wouldn't be proud of the person that Dan had become, with his exact words being 'These days I'm becoming everything that I hate', hitting hard as he wishes that she was here to guide him through his battle against drugs, knowing that he's got to keep fighting the addiction as his sister in law continues to live on his mind, even if she isn't physically present. Not sure if his sister in law's death is what made him start taking drugs but he does mention that he's been 'wrecked' since she passed away, wanting to see her one more day so she could give him a few last words of motivation to get through his difficult phase a little easier, earlier having tried to stuff all his feelings of grief behind his back but now is the moment where all those feelings of grief come pouring out. Dan's vocals vary in intensity throughout the track which I find to be a magnificent decision, using a bit more peaceful voice on the verses and bridge, being easier to connect to than if he was yelling and when he eventually does yell on the chorus, it lets him transfer all the grief that he's been facing towards the listeners through the connection he created on the verses and bridge, allowing me to feel the dump of emotions. He chooses to wait for time to gradually heal the pain cause by the loss, but then he's reminded of her, which causes the pain to come rushing back. The production of the song is simple but great as a tremendous, acoustic guitar instrumental is used throughout the track, a little generic, but the electric guitar is what takes the track to to the next level and prevents it from being a snooze-fest, adding energy and electricity to the track, with the solo after the bridge being beautiful. Dan discusses how he deals with his dark thoughts, drifting to what his sister in law would've told him if she was alive which is to not think about what he could've done but to focus on what he can do now, remember who he was before the addiction.
On what seems to be the first love song on the album, 'Monday', we see an improvement in Dan's mood as he finds someone to push past his addiction for, his wife, celebrating her and the happiness that she spreads to him. Verse 1 and verse 2 aren't very detailed as he describes dancing with his wife and how he'll never get enough of her, telling her that he'll be there for her and asking if she'll do the same. Dan's favorite day of the week seems to be Monday, comparing her to Monday in the way that she's the best but underrated too as there's a stereotype of Monday being one of the worst days of the week as we all have to go back to school/work, seeming to not care about how corny that sounds as she has the key to his heart. I admit that this isn't the best track on the album when it comes to the lyrics, but it is still a lovely gesture from Dan towards his wife, with the production additionally making up for the lyrics to some extent as it mixes a sizzling modern instrumental with retro counter melodies in the form of an acoustic guitar and snaps, adding a cool, natural feeling to the track, getting some glitchy effects too, although it still manages to sound slightly empty at times. We receive a few more corny lines on the next verse as Dan claims he never lets the ringtone ring when his wife calls, picking up the phone as soon as she calls, a little weird but whatever. The production on the outro is perfect as that's where those glitchy effects enter the track, managing to provide support so that the track reaches its climax, basically serving as the build-up after a purposeful empty area where Dan lets the rawness of the track shine. Dan uses lines that seem like they have double meanings, claiming that his wife is the person he's been waiting all his life for, ending the track using nice melodies that just make you want to smile.
Dan's dark thoughts seem to have returned on '#1', although they manage to teach him a lesson about self-love and that you should put your happiness ahead of anyone else's, even if that may sound 'mean'. He seems to search for a safe place as he wonders when his life will turn around, realizing that he doesn't need to listen to what anyone else says about him as he claims that he knows who he is, which may not be true yet but does move a little closer to him finding himself once again. The beat on the track is basic but beautiful as the instrumental is everything that the instrumentals on 'Donda' and CLB aimed to be, being quite haunting as it paints the night sky nicely using some jazzy counter melodies and almost perfect drums, that feel plush but with its pattern being repetitive, to help. Someone seems to have let Dan down, maybe his wife as I remember him mentioning that they had a few rough patches in their relationship in an interview and because it follows right after the track about his love for his wife, where his feelings were very extreme and a period where he was likely to be blinded by his love, telling listeners that he's back all alone, knowing that this was coming, probably thinking that some things are too good to be true but luckily, we find out that it's not the case in this situation later on in the album. Dan's vocals are really good on the track, matched the mellow mood made by the beat, seeming to be coated with a subtle layer of vocal effects that make him sound softer, allowing the contrast between his soft vocals and regular loud vocals to be a highlight on the song. Questioning whoever let him down, he asks them what they take him for as he put all his belief into them just for them to let him down, feeling betrayed, ending the song with a repeated 'I'm still my number one' so that he can let that person know that he won't ever put that much trust in them again and to remind everyone that you shouldn't make anyone else your number one no matter what, always put yourself first.
Wasn't expecting a song about how friends drift apart over the years, but I'm glad it was added to the album as it fit the theme of finding yourself as similar to how what you love makes you, who your friends are make you too. Looking back at how many friends you've made and how many have remained in touch can cause this unexplainable, queasy feeling inside you, with Dan claiming he doesn't blame his friends for leaving him behind which may refer to his drugs habits getting in between his friendships, knowing he needs to move on but struggling to as the realization that he'd have to move on from his friends along with already having to move on from the loss of his sister in law, the disappointment of love, and most importantly drugs, terrifies him as the list of things to move on from keeps piling up. Dan claims that this is his lullaby, a song to get him through this tough time of having to move on from a lot and need to restart his life. Dan's vocals are weary, tired of being a disappointment and being disappointed, with the softness of his vocals on the chorus taking me by surprise, sounding spectacular as I like this new change of pace from him, much slower and calm. Sending a message to his friends, he tells them that he misses them and asks them why they had to drift apart, probably knowing the reason already somewhere in the back of his mind, finishing off by telling them that he wishes that they were here so that they could help each other get through this tough year together. Mentioning that he has to move on again instead of waiting for them to randomly appear and for things to go back to normal, Dan uses the phrase 'easy come, easy go' to describe the rapidly disappearing friendships, something more people can relate to during the pandemic as we just haven't been able to meet each other as often as we would've, automatically leading to broken friendships. Not much discussed on verse 2 as he just repeats two lines used earlier while referencing the band's hit song, 'Demons'. Plenty of piano is used in the production, not being the best use of the piano as I feel like the piano sounded a little too light, leaving lots of 'white space', with the drums being generic. The bridge refers to one of Dan's real life friendship, where his best friend in high school had bone cancer and was in a wheelchair, with their friendship having slowly disappeared for no clear reason, with Dan even claiming that he reconnected with this friend after he made the song, playing it for him, being quite an emotional reunion. The chorus slowly fades out to end the track, referring to the theme of the track as it signifies how relationships with people fade away throughout the years, being a beautiful, bittersweet song.
Returning to the topic of Dan's drug problems, 'Giants' highlights the difficulty of being sober for someone who's been struggling with addiction for quite a while. He wants to return to taking drugs more than anything so he can be free from all the pain he's been facing lately, telling us that he's 'suffocating', admitting that he's had thoughts related to self-harm, but ending the verse on a more positive note, making me smile as he says that he doesn't want to waste his life chasing the 'white' (cocaine/drugs) and that he's going to continue to try and push these bad thoughts away. On the chorus, Dan describes how he had thought that he had found the key to keeping himself away from drugs, but that's when the next wave of withdrawals hit him as I assume that usually the longer you're sober, the more likely you are to relapse until you reach the end of the rehabilitation process, with this wave hitting Dan suddenly and catching him off guard, telling us that he's gotten tired of feeling so numb and that he needs the drugs to feel alive/anything again, feeling the painful side effects of sobriety. The production is pretty bad, classic Imagine Dragons beat that's got a barely audible instrumental and thick drums that do nothing to make up for it, although the synthesizers that come in on the chorus are stunning. Dan tells listeners that he wants to make them proud by quitting the drugs, continuing by describing some of the withdrawal effects using intriguing imagery. The vocals from Dan are in between really bad and fantastic as they're very off-beat and frantic which may have been done on purpose to create the image of someone who's about to relapse and the thoughts that run through their head, with the screaming being ugly at first glance, but the more you listen to the track, you slowly see the pain behind the madness and it's absolutely beautiful and extremely painful. The part of the track that throws me off is the awful chorus as I get why they might've made the chorus off-beat on purpose, but the flow is just too frustrating to enjoy and almost ruins the entire song from a musical stand-point.
My guilty pleasure on the album would be 'It's Ok' as the best way to describe it is 'Be Happy' but Imagine Dragons version. The song emphasizes on how it's okay to not feel the best as we all face dark moments and can't help but feel down at times. Holding everything in is what lead to Dan's breakdown, caused him to look towards drugs as releasing your emotions can actually help you feel better while holding them in can lead to an accumulation of feelings until you self-destruct, turning into a mess. Even if everyone looks like they're happy, it doesn't mean that they actually are so don't hold back your honest feelings just because everyone else looks happy. Dan also discusses how this girl has no one to talk to so she doesn't express her emotions, which is almost never the case as people who truly love you will ALWAYS take time to listen to you when you need to let out your emotions. The chorus is so cheesy but who cares, I love it, it's such a feel good chorus that immediately brings a smile to your face as the lyrics are perfectly positive. Dan's vocals are cheerful and raw, some of his best on the album, with his vocals on the chorus seeming to be layered which turns out to be an amazing creative decision as it makes it so much more catchier, while the autotune on his voice is heavenly. Not completely sure what Dan's message on the second verse is but the bridge is about not wanting to be in your body, wanting to be anyone else. The entire song seems to be dedicated to members of the LGBTQ community, with the entire song also telling you to embrace your sexuality and to not be afraid of being yourself. The production has a happy, old-school touch to it as I can picture the sun shining down on me whenever I listen to the beat, with the instrumental being a bit off if I've being honest although the soothing nature of the drums is nice. The melodies and the background vocals to close the track build up that bright and beautiful atmosphere again, supported by a warm secondary instrumental, serving as what might be the best outro on the album.
Feel like 'Dull Knives' is the most vulnerable track on the album, with Dan's performance being the opposite of artificial, feeling so raw and real, with the pain expressed through the track piercing a hole in my heart. Once again, we reach a track that discusses the pain of withdrawal, or at least I assume as there's some type of extreme pain expressed through the track, echoing until the song ends. If I had to choose one track to show the self-destruction caused by keeping feelings stuffed down inside you, I'd choose this song as it spectacularly represents the exact moment when everything comes flowing out, with so many extreme emotions flying all over the place ready to hurt anyone. This is even discussed through Dan's lyrics as he talks about how he's trying to find hope, looking for the light in the dark, anxiety creeping up on him, adding that he's a mess but doesn't let it show which eventually only transforms you into a bigger mess. Through the chorus, we can literally feel the immense pain that Dan is feeling through he intense screaming, that I've gotten a little used to after listening to 'Giants' and only grows on you more and more as you return to the album, as he describes dull knives slowly twisting his spine and sucking his life away and if there's one thing to know, dull knives hurt more than sharp knives as they don't pierce as easily so you can really tell that Dan really had felt the pain as he wouldn't have been able to write this chorus if he hadn't. Dan's wife, Aja Volkman is credited as a writer as Dan mentioned in an interview that he feels the most vulnerable with his wife, with his wife convincing him to not cover up the lyrics on the track with his metaphors and just writing his exact emotions out on paper which is exactly what he ended up doing as he took her advice. Production takes a backseat surprisingly as on such a powerful track and moment on the album, you'd usually expect the production to overwhelm our ears with noise but Dan takes responsibility of that, with the beat just having some loud guitars to support Dan, not even coming close to the loudness of Dan's vocals which only ends up leaving me in more of awe of Dan's vocals, with the electric guitar solo not being as good as the one on 'Wasted' but still sounding super cool. Dan's vocals, excluding the yelling, are not bad but are completely overshadowed by his outstanding yelling, not serving as much of a purpose other than allowing listeners to focus on his lyrics more than his vocals unlike on the chorus/bridge. Using the second verse, Dan admits that his lyrics may seem cliché but that he actually feels each and every emotion that he describes, adding that he needs some help through this phase, knowing that even if he did take drugs, he wouldn't just be returning to his old ways, his life would literally be fleeing as he'd have a high chance at overdosing at some point, the purpose of him even quitting in the first place.
Our ears are given a tiny break from the screaming on 'Follow You', clearly being more radio-friendly than the rest of the album, probably why it was chosen as one of the two lead singles. Think this is the second love song after 'Monday', coming in at the perfect position as I noticed that 'Monday' is the fourth track from the top and 'Follow You' is the fourth track from the bottom, with both songs being spaced out nicely. The song doesn't work much better on the album but does provide a much-needed break from all of the yelling so I can't really complain about the track. Dan basically sings about wanting to treat his wife right, wanting to be with her on ever step of her life, love and live with her forever. Even through all his personal struggles, he claims he'll put the effort to always help her and support her through anything, trying hard to be as good as a husband as he can which comes off as quite heartwarming. Dan's vocals are around the average mark as he doesn't do anything significantly different than any other singer trying to make a radio jam, with his vocals remaining at a constant strong intensity throughout the track. Dan tells his wife that he notices how she's disappointed with herself and that he'd follow her as she finds herself just like she's supporting (or following) him through his sobriety. The production is pleasant, using a glossy synthesizer and almost perfect drums that drop tremendously on the chorus, with even the use of some of the most generic counter melodies being used well. Dan knows that his wife is being way too hard on herself and that he could probably fix the problem if he wanted to, but some things just need to be figured out on their own as the entire tracks is basically about how Dan and his wife don't need each other, but will always support each other, love without expectations.
'Cutthroat' kinda serves as the end of the trilogy of screaming songs, ending up being an excellent finale as it's also the last track about Dan's addiction, at least on Act 1, being the track where he seems to have moved on from everything including all the drugs, finding himself for the first time in forever. The song sounds so much better on the album as it isn't some unexpected, violent trap track made by Imagine Dragons which was what releasing it as a single made it look like, but turns out to be so much more, an extreme, experimental track that marks a new chapter in Dan's life, splitting the two halves of himself, his past self from his present self. He's been working hard on his sobriety but one last wave seems to be coming his way, with Dan trying to get prepared for the pain that comes along with it. The vocals from Dan are more whispery than usual on the verses, although he unleashes his yelling on the chorus which is very rough as he sounds close to almost screeching, probably being the worst of his yelling vocals but matching the beat well. Dan realizes that he's been dragged down by many people but tells us that he will make it through his journey of becoming sober and move on from every mistake made against him and every mistake he has made. Initially, on the demo of the track, a guitar instrumental was used until Rick Rubin came on board and changed everything up to a Nine Inch Nails inspired beat that includes some trap elements, with the dark piano instrumental giving me a chills while the drums don't match the instrumental the best sadly, sounding quite basic, while beat transforms into something much more beastly after the second verse, taking my breath away as gorgeous, grim synthesizers are added along with a repeated, satisfying 'Cutthroat' and 'Get on my knee', giving 'It's Ok' a run for its money as the best outro, capturing the split of Dan's halves creatively as I couldn't think of a better way to execute this 'exorcism', that frees Dan from the burdens of his past but teaches him to love both his halves of himself, the past and present, curing his addiction.
Coincidentally, me and my brother had the same favorite song for this album, 'No Time For Toxic People', honestly being one of my favorite songs this year as I haven't heard a track this positive and beautiful, while at the same time, not being too corny, cheesy, or hiding anything from the listeners, a honest and healthy song that helps you face the fact the finality of life. Dan speaks about people talking behind his back but that he's got no time to be worried about that as life is short and you can't waste it being worried about each and every thing that someone says about you as someone will always have something to say about you, you can instead go out and live your life as you don't have forever to live. I love the chorus, it sounds so refreshing and feels like a breath of fresh air, automatically making all my worries disappear as Dan sings about a beautiful day, a line that's timeless and works for each and every day as there's no day that's not beautiful as long as the sun is still shining and happiness rules the Earth, continuing by singing about how he's going to keep it that way which brings a smile to my face as it's such a wholesome line that makes me want to help others and spread some happiness to the world right at this moment. Probably my favorite beat on the album as the instrumental is innovative, probably being in my top ten favorite beats this year, with the instrumental being a better version of 'New Again' and 'Race My Mind', using a similar stunning wavy synthesizer that sounds so smooth and satisfying, reminding me of Bubble Gum for some reason, while the drums make the track a billion times better, dropping heavily on the chorus, adding a much-needed thickness to the track as it fills in any empty space remaining, while a modern, siren-like piano counter melody/secondary instrumental repeats throughout the track matching the main instrumental magnificently. Dan continues on the second verse by teasing the people who can't stop spreading hate about him, adding that he needs to get out of the bad mental state that they leave him in and instead live life with the ones who show love to him, boosting his self-confidence by calling himself a four-leafed clover, someone you'd be lucky to have in your life. Dan's vocals are really good, bright and stellar, filled with good energy and sounding so much more different than during his addiction as he sounds like he's truly happy and like he wants to continue to move along a positive path throughout life just like he did when he chose to quit drugs, warming my heart with how carefree he sounds, finally not being held back by drugs as he's now free to live his life in any way he wants. The bridge doesn't add much as he's just inviting everyone to join him on his positive path, while the melodies on the post-chorus are cheerful, adding to the sunny atmosphere, with Dan encouraging you to not spend a single second on toxic people as there's always something better you can be doing. I really enjoy songs like this, where artists just pour their soul into a song and celebrate life which is the main purpose of the track, live your life to the fullest as life doesn't last forever.
Not sure why 'One Day' was included to the album, as the last track did a lovely job at closing up the album, spreading happy vibes and managing to spread a spectacular message at the same time, reminding everyone to not waste time on those who deserve it and to spend your days as happy and healthy as you can. On the other hand, 'One Day' makes me cringe as the lyrics are easily some of the worst on the album, a little too selfish which leaves a sour taste in my mouth, even if does include interesting imagery and hope. Dan sings about how he'll be the one thing that makes his fans or wife happy one day, having the hope I was talking about imbedded in the lyrics but the 'one thing' part is what gives me the feeling that Dan's being selfish as if he truly loved his fans and wife, he wouldn't want to be the only thing to make us happy. I guess I might be taking the lyrics too literally but still feel like he's focusing way too much on himself, which is already something I don't like to see on outros as I'd rather have an outro leave listeners with a nice message than instead be a diary entry of their emotions at the moment as there's plenty of other time for that in the rest of the album, with my point being proved as the rest of this album, excluding 'It's Ok', 'Monday', 'Follow You', and 'No Time For Toxic People', they were all about Dan. The vocals were chill, not having any extreme qualities which felt unusual for an Imagine Dragons track, not interesting me enough vocally like all the other songs did, forming a bland area on the album. Using nature as his setting, Dan describes how the birds sing to him which may be a refer to their song 'Birds' while also mentioning that at the end of a day, he ends up always automatically returning to his wife. The production on the track happens to also be awful as it's barely audible, painfully empty as Dan's monotonous vocals are given no support at all by the equally boring piano and generic guitar, with both instrumentals not providing enough of an impact as their presence can't be felt at all. Dan tells his fans and wife not to listen to anything anyone says as he knows that we can't help but listen to them, instead inviting us to run away towards a happier place, where we're not dragged down by the words of others and are instead free to enjoy life. I mean, the only reason I can see this being added to the album is to help introduce Act 2 of Mercury, using a hopeful and lighthearted approach to achieve its goal.
Imagine Dragons, a band I've always found annoying and overplayed, have managed to prove me wrong by creating a smooth-flowing, fairly experimental album as I've always assumed they were just another band aiming to create aggressive pop bangers. Instead, the band chooses to show that they don't just scream random catchy words, putting in the effort to describe Dan's substance abuse/drug addiction, not backing away from the topic at all as every single song sounds unfiltered lyrically and vocally, with the way they express pain being exhilarating as you never know what's coming your way such, with examples being sudden screaming and thundering drums which allow the artists to absolutely dump their pain into the tracks. Digging deep into the roots, the artists use some of their original sounds, sounds that make them Imagine Dragons, while managing to move on from the position they've been stuck at for the last couple of years by experimenting with sounds you'd never expect from such a radio-friendly band as they choose to use risky, rusty sounds that are rough but sound really good, being the 'golden sounds' that I described earlier in my review. Mercury - Act 1 is what I'd call the rebirth of Imagine Dragons musically and mentally for the members of the band, with the radioactive nature of the songs being exactly what you need to help break any addictions you face or move on from a moment in the past, helping you land safely after what felt like an infinite fall.
Best Tracks: No Time For Toxic People, My Life, Wrecked, It's Ok, Lonely, #1, Dull Knives
Worst Tracks: Giants, Cutthroat
Can't wait for Act 2!