The first and foremost thing you should take into account when speaking of modern arena stars Imagine Dragons is that their name is an anagram for “Managed Origins”. Once you build upon this foundation you realize exactly what they are and represent.
The modern hipster is a complex beast. They will fight to the death for your right to “listen to what you want”, unless of course what you want to listen to is in heavy rotation on KROQ. The modern hipster gives a thumbs up to Beyonce, Rihanna, and Justin Timberlake, but heaven help you if they happen to catch you listening to Rise Against or Muse. They will tell you that the notion of a guilty pleasure is antiquated but will all too happily indict you if that pleasure is derived from an artist currently labelled as “modern rock”.
These are of course the people who think that the term “rockist” is a valid thing; apparently having a preference for rock music automatically means you want everyone off your lawn. So of course they’re going to be utterly dismayed that one of the biggest and most popular acts of the moment is an artist firmly rooted in alternative rock tradition.
What the naysayers are partially right about: “Imagine Dragons are the new Nickelback”. True, both bands have incredibly limited sonic pallets and reuse the same four chords over and over and over. Their success is essentially a numbers game; they’re simply so prolific that there’s bound to be a hit single in the piles of music they release. Whether it’s an EP, a soundtrack song, a deluxe reissue, a “penance single” to make up for poor sales- you can’t say they’re not hard workers.
Both bands started fully formed. Nickelback has always been what they are now. Imagine Dragons, whether they were assembled by a committee or not, still sound largely as they did on their first single: a bombastic fusion of….every genre in one.
Both bands also spawned a whole lot of imitators. In Nickelback’s case the most visible one was Theory of a Deadman. Imagine Dragons’ top acolyte thus far has been X Ambassadors.
Stylistically they’re not too similar- Nickelback are watered down post-grunge while Imagine Dragons are OneRepublic for the tank top crew. But the underlying attitude is there; both deal in very adrenaline-fueled, aggro oriented rock. Fist pumpers unite when these anthems come on.
The most major difference is that Imagine Dragons convey a very wholesome persona. Chad Kroeger veered into a lot of problematic territory with his lyrics, Dan Reynolds is a proponent of “be a weirdo!”
In conclusion, Imagine Dragons are harmless arena rock that have some good songs, a lot of bad ones, and will gradually cross over to easy listening rock just like Goo Goo Dolls or Matchbox Twenty. For now, let’s just enjoy “Radioactive”, because it’s a straight up jam.