‘Evolve’ Is Imagine Dragons’ Most Focused Album Yet

What’s in a name? In the case of Imagine Dragons’ third album “Evolve,” it’s tempting to guess that the band is going to somehow change or expand their approach. The question then becomes what exactly does that mean to a band that has always freely drawn from styles as diverse as synth-pop, arena rock, hip hop and folk – sometimes all in the same song. Instead of a wholesale change in style, it seems that the band is boasting an improved strength of the material. Fortunately for them, “Evolve” lives up to its own billing as Imagine Dragons’ most focused effort to date.

Album opener “I Don’t Know Why” starts things off at a fast pace, as sugary vocal melodies bounce off warbling kick and bass patterns. “Whatever It Takes” slows the tempo only slightly, inviting listeners in with its larger-than-life production, where Gregorian chants echo throughout the track to create a vivid sense of space. Then the album lets loose its most aggressive single “Believer,” its rapped verses and screamed choruses sure to inspire many a fist pumping stadium singalong. Just like its music video – which mashes up Tron imagery and rainbow color schemes to a montage of lead singer Dan Reynolds trading blows with Dolph Lundgren – the song filters the colorful tendencies of EDM through a macho rock mentality, with anthemic hooks and crushing power chords (albeit played on synthesizers).

This might all sound like by-the-numbers Imagine Dragons, but the songcraft is a marked improvement over 2015’s “Smoke + Mirrors,” and even the detours feel more thoughtful and intriguing. “Rise Up” stops at the midway point for a chamber pop interlude that pairs Beach Boys’ harmonies with synth strings. The soulful samples on “Yesterday” sound like they’re ripped off a dusty Motown LP and then turned inside out around the hard driven snare hits, giving listeners a refreshing change of pace from the high fidelity that characterizes the rest of the album.

The most impressive change is how much attention the band has paid to the flow and sequencing this time around. Imagine Dragons set a fast pace that never really lets up over the course of “Evolve’s” efficient 39 minutes and change. The shortened run length also helps them stay focused, and they never really lose the forest through the trees as they have on past albums. Instead, they condense their meticulous productions into tighter frameworks to ensure that not one life-affirming minute is wasted. As they play to their strengths – lush orchestrations, sample-heavy rhythms, and Reynolds’ mostly crooned, but occasionally rapped vocals – Imagine Dragons are out to please with a set of songs where each track feels like it could become a hit.

Is it a full blown success, though? It’s certainly going to delight Imagine Dragons fans, but every cliché-fueled lyric means that more discerning listeners simply won’t be able to appreciate it on the same level. Their mashup of the best of every genre is what made them a crowd pleaser, but it will probably also prevent them from ever attracting diehards of the rock, soul and EDM scenes that they so readily borrow from.

But for every Phil Collins-esque drum fill and over-processed “is that a guitar?” riff, “Evolve” never sounds like a focus group-approved cash grab, and that has never been the general feel from Imagine Dragons either. In each genre-hopping, finely manicured suite, the listener never forgets that there are actual dudes behind the scenes pushing the buttons and expressing these sentiments. Even if that doesn’t make Imagine Dragons the most interesting band in the world, it at least makes their success less objectionable. And no matter how much you evolve, some things never change.

Evolve is available on Apple Music June 23.