Dan Reynolds opens Imagine Dragons’ sophomore album by apologizing “for everything I’ve done” — which, presumably, includes having a double-platinum debut album (2012’s “Night Visions”), winning a Grammy Award and being Billboard’s top rock act of 2013. Dude’s probably even sorry for all 9 million-plus copies sold of “Radioactive.” So, yeah, “Smoke + Mirrors” is one of THOSE albums, full of musings about the unexpected and often unpleasant impact of sudden fame, especially on one’s character and romantic life. Fortunately that hasn’t altered Reynolds and his bandmates’ vision of epic popcraft of, which mitigates the angst and recriminations of these 13 tracks. This time out the quartet gets to guide its own fate, with mentor/producer Alex Da Kid stamping just one track (the single “Gold”) and letting Imagine Dragons take care of the rest. The result is an album that hews much closer to the group’s powerful in-concert attack, with plenty of percussion and ebb-and-flow dynamics but with a more organic sensibility and significantly fewer studio effects. There are times (“Shots,” “I Bet My Life”) where it feels like Imagine Dragons is trying a little hard for maximum impact, but the bulk of “Smoke + Mirrors” outfits Reynolds’ emotional hand-wringing with smart and sometimes complex arrangements that soar, including the trippy African flavors of “It Comes Back to You,” the galloping anthemics of “Trouble,” the understated flow of “Summer” and the long, trancelike exit from the closing track, “The Fall.” Reynolds does lament at one point that “everything’s a mess” in his life, but on “Smoke + Mirrors” his band turns it into a close to beautiful mess.
Steve Earle & the Dukes, “Terraplane” (New West): The Americana stalwart takes a bluesy path on his latest release, taking the title from the car made during the 1930s by Detroit’s Hudson Motor Car Co.