Dan Reynolds' vocal stylings have always been tailor made for grandiose, epic instrumentals to stand behind them. This makes the sonic choices on "Evolve" quite the head-scratcher. Opening track "I don't know why" sets the tone for the entire album, itself being a minimalist affair that sounds like a competent Tears for Fears cover band. Competent, yes, but a Tears for Fears cover band just the same. The impassioned vocals are still there, but they seem to clash with the arrangements, and this continues to be a problem all the way through. The songs are pleasant enough, usually, but it just doesn't feel the same. With the hard-charging synth bass-line of lead single "Believer" revealing itself to be a painfully obvious attempt to catch lightning in a bottle twice ("Radioactive - Part II, anyone?") it is clear they are going all out to re-capture past glories. Same goes for "Yesterday" which feels like a jagged-edge companion piece to "Hopeless Opus" that doesn't quite gel. When they do manage to sound like they fit alongside this new musical direction, it does result in some agreeable head-nodders (see late album track "Start Over.") They also turn in a pleasing riff on the "Weirdo everyone makes fun of who later gets to say 'Well, I sure showed you, didn't I?'" with the toe-tapping stomp of "Thunder."
It is also clear that they don't have high regard for the not-as-well-received (but arguably much better) "Smoke & Mirrors." So much of that album worked, and worked better than anything they had done before, yet, on "Evolve" they throw nearly all of it away. So much of what appears on "Evolve" feels like the course correction they didn't really need to do. They have shown over the course of their previous 2 full lengths that they have strengths as a band that they can exploit to create enjoyable, vibrant music. Here those strengths seem buried under what feels very much like a "producer's album." Nothing wrong with that kind of album, sure, but it's disappointing to see when the band releasing it is obviously capable of more. "Evolve" is the sound of a band who is trapped on stage in Sally Field mode - they want listeners to like them, to REALLY LIKE THEM! The problem is, most listeners already did, and this bald attempt to win back people who hadn't really run away in the first place, while pleasant-sounding enough, is a pale imitation of their true talents as a band. Here's hoping they believe in themselves a bit more on album number 4.
5 1/2 stars out of 10.