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Track Review

It's been tough sledding for rock musicians in the music world for, well, quite a while now. But a handful of intrepid bands have shown the way forward when it comes to achieving mainstream acclaim and radio airplay. At the top of that list in the last few years have been Imagine Dragons, Mumford & Sons and OneRepublic.

X Ambassadors has been taking good notes, it seems. The first major single from this alt-rock quartet hailing from Ithaca, N.Y., checks all the boxes for a rock hit in a post-rock world. Moody acoustic guitars? Check. Boot stomps? Check. Hand claps (and lots of 'em)? Check. Earnest, honest, aspirational lyrics? Check, check, and check yet again.

Don't Relegate the Renegades

"Renegades" starts out sounding (lyrically speaking) like an awful lot of rock songs through the years. Which is to say that it initially seems like a celebratory embrace of a no-rules, no-boundaries, no-limits mindset—truly being renegades in the most problematic sense of that word.

"Run away with me," frontman Sam Harris instructs at the outset. He then describes himself and his invitee as "Lost souls in revelry/Running wild and running free/Two kids, you and me."

Uh-oh. That doesn't sound good, not in 1985 and not in 2015 either. And Harris and Co. then make more wild-child "hey" in the song's chorus: "And I said hey/Hey, hey, hey/Living like we're renegades/Hey, hey, hey/Hey, hey, hey/Living like we're renegades/Renegades, renegades."

As the song progresses, though, hints emerge that perhaps the guys in X Ambassadors aren't just glorifying rebellion for the sake of proving their “real rocker” bona fides. Maybe they're trying to be renegades for some higher purpose?

"Long live the pioneers/Rebels and mutineers/Go forth and have no fear,” Harris sings. "So all hail the underdogs/All hail the new kids/All hail the outlaws/Spielbergs and Kubricks."

There's still some clichéd rock rebellion here, certainly. But by linking the idea of being a renegade to being pioneers and underdogs, the song suddenly takes on a more positive vibe.

In a recent performance on Today, Sam Harris confirmed what the intended meaning in these inconsistent lyrics is: "The song is about, you know, people who defy the odds, who kind of are unafraid of being different,” he said.

Righteous Rebels in Real Life

The video rams home that idea powerfully. It depicts folks with severe physical limitations—including blindness and missing limbs—doing remarkable things anyway.

One blind woman works as a trainer at a gym. A group of adventurous friends climb mountains and ride skateboards even though they can't see them. A wrestler is missing limbs. So is a mixed martial arts fighter. And there are many more as the song goes on. Then, toward the end of the video, we’re given a hint about its inspiration: Turns out keyboardist Casey Harris, Sam’s older brother, is blind himself. But it’s obviously not stopping him from being a full participant in and contributor to X Ambassadors’ success.

Real renegades aren't slacker rebels without a cause, Sam and his band tell us. And they aren’t limited by the setbacks they encounter. Instead, they strive with all their might to fearlessly overcome … and write rock songs.

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