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Adam R. Holz

Album Review

What do we do with pain?

It’s a simple question with lots of potential answers. Some people deny their pain. Others try to medicate it. Still others embrace it in a toxic, self-destructive way.

Then there’s Imagine Dragons. The guys in this influential Las Vegas indie rock outfit (with Mormon roots) say that pain has been a catalyst that’s fueled their artistic expression. They even suggest that pain has somehow made them believers … though what they believe in is much less clear on the group’s new single of the same name.

I’m a Believer?

Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds launches into this smoldering, synth-saturated slow burner with a declaration that nothing can stop him from speaking his mind (“First things first/I’ma say all the words inside my head”) or dissuade him from the trajectory he’s chosen (“Don’t you tell me what you think that I can be/I’m the one at the sail, I’m the master of my sea, oh, ooh”).

So what burning message does he want to deliver?

At the very least, Reynolds and Co. imply that life’s difficult moments can yield something redemptive and beautiful down the road. “I was broken from a young age,” Reynolds confesses. But writing and music became an outlet for his troubles, one that in turn touched others who were struggling similarly: “Write down my poems for the few/That looked at me, took to me, shook to me, feeling me/Singing from heartache from the pain/ … Seeing beauty through the/Pain.”

Then comes a chorus that links said pain to belief. “Pain/You made me a, you made me a believer, believer.” And, “Pain/You break me down, you build me up, believer, believer.”

But a believer in what? That’s less clear. There is a somewhat vague reference to God in the second chorus: “My life, my love, my God/They came from/Pain. (Note: The first chorus is different, saying, “My life, my love, my drive/They came from pain.”) And the second verse adds more biblical-sounding allusions: “Send a prayer to the ones up above/All the hate that you’ve heard has turned your spirit into a dove.”

Ambiguity Rules

That said, the third and fourth verses of “Believer” don’t clarify exactly what the band is singing about.

Disorientation and despair emanate from the third verse: “I was choking in the crowd/Living my brain up in the cloud/Falling like ashes to the ground/Hoping my feelings, they would drown.” Apparently, though, that longed-for hope didn’t come to pass: “But they never did, ever lived, ebbing and flowing/Inhibited, limited.”

The last verse is perhaps a bit more hopeful, though the purifying process of pain here still seems a fiery one. “By the grace of the fire and flames/You’re the face of the future, the blood in my veins.” Is Reynolds talking to God? Himself? Another significant person in his life?

Like much of the rest of the song, ambiguity rules here. It could be that pain has sifted Reynold’s soul to the point that his belief in God has grown. Then again, it’s equally possible that the object of the singer’s titular belief is something else entirely—references to grace, prayer, God and a spirit notwithstanding.

The ultimate result? A song that’s spiritual enough for people of different spiritualities to claim as their own but vague enough that no one will accuse it of trying to convert listeners to whatever belief the guys in Imagine Dragons are actually singing about.

Adam R. Holz

After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.

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