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Track Review

Rock may not be dead. But it's arguably on life support, with hit songs from artists in this genre being an increasing rarity on the mainstream singles charts.

But don't tell Imagine Dragons.

In 2012 and 2013, the Las Vegas-based alt-rock act landed three songs from Night Visions in the upper echelons of Billboard's Hot 100 chart: " Radioactive" (which made it to No. 3), " Demons" (No. 6) and " It's Time" (No. 15). Along with Mumford & Sons, Dragons is one of just a handful of breakout rock acts currently defying rock's overall downward popularity spiral.

Perhaps the band itself has now noticed the kind of company it's been keeping. After all, "I Bet My Life" sounds a whole lot like Mumford & Sons. Huge, gospel-ly gang vocals paired with folksy, boot-stompin' percussion fill the catchy chorus as frontman Dan Reynolds tells the story of a prodigal seeking his musical fortune in the wide, wide world.

"I know I took the path that you would never want," he tells his parents. "I know I let you down, didn't I?" How so? Well, Reynolds spells out exactly what the emotional toll on this young man's parents has looked like: "So many sleepless nights/Where you were waiting up for me/ ... Remember when I broke you down to tears?/ ... I gave you h--- through all the years." That awareness, though, wasn't enough to compel the singer to bend his will or change his path: "Well, I'm just a slave unto the night/Now remember when I told you that's the last you'd see of me?"

Such a seemingly callous, rebellious stance, however, is quickly contrasted with the chorus's ambiguous-but-triumphant salute to the very people whose counsel was once spurned: "So I, I bet my life, I bet my life/I bet my life on you."

That idea gets amplified in the second verse. Even as this willful troubadour continues to go his own way, he gradually recognizes his parents' influence in shaping who he has become. He's not ready to come home just yet ("I've been around the world and never in my wildest dreams/Would I come running home to you"). Nor is he ready to hear an "I told you so" ("Don't tell me that I'm wrong/I've walked that road before"). But he's beginning to see just how deeply his parents' upbringing has affected him: "I've told a million lies/But now I tell I single truth/There's you in everything I do."

In the song's final line, that realization gets paired with an apology for all that rebellion and the sleepless nights it spawned. "Please forgive me for all I've done," Reynolds pleads.

Talking about the track's meaning in an interview with spin.com recently, Reynolds confirmed that it is indeed an autobiographical portrait of his relationship with his mother and father. "This song is about the relationship I've had with my parents throughout the years," said the 27-year-old. "At times it's been strained and difficult, but in the end, 'I Bet My Life' celebrates the bond that we still hold on to."

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October 27, 2014

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Adam R. Holz

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