Focus on the Lyrics Friday: Gold

Much as I dislike repeating artists for this column (with the exception of Bastille), it must be done. Imagine Dragons released their new CD, Smoke + Mirrors, Tuesday, February 17. Like everything else they touch, it’s musical gold.

One of my favorite tracks from the album is “Gold,” which in addition to sounding completely unlike anything else I’ve heard (a mix of gospel, whistles, a strange hiccuping noise, and rock) has some interesting lyrics.


Lyrics

First comes the blessing of all that you’ve dreamed,
But then comes the curses of diamonds and rings.
Only at first did it have its appeal, but now you can’t tell the false from the real.
Who can you trust
(Who can you trust)

When everything, everything, everything you touch turns to gold, gold, gold.
When everything, everything, everything you touch turns to gold, gold

Statues and empires are all at your hands,
Water to wine and the finest of sands.
When all that you have’s turning stale and its cold,
Oh you’ll no longer fear when your heart’s turned to gold.
Who can you trust
(Who can you trust)

When everything, everything, everything you touch turns to gold, gold, gold.
When everything, everything, everything you touch turns to gold, gold

I’m dying to feel again,
Oh anything at all,
But oh I feel nothin’, nothin’, nothin’, nothin’

When everything, everything, everything you touch turns to gold, gold, gold.
When everything, everything, everything you touch turns to gold, gold

Analysis

At it’s core, the song is based on the Greek myth of King Midas, who wished for the power to turn what he touched into gold. Midas’ wish turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing, since he accidentally turned his food and his daughter into gold.

In the song, Imagine Dragons uses this myth to build on the idea of fame and the wealth that comes with it.

1) “First comes the blessing of all that you’ve dreamed, / But then comes the curses of diamonds and rings. / Only at first did it have its appeal, but now you can’t tell the false from the real. / Who can you trust (Who can you trust)”

In Midas’ case, the “blessing of all that [he’s] dreamed” is his wish to turn what he touches into gold, which only appealed “at first.” In the real-world application, many “dream” of being blessed with fame and wealth. Imagine Dragons, now at a position of fame and fortune, attest that the “diamonds and rings” become “curses” in the same way Midas’ ability became a curse, separating him from those he loved. Fame and fortune may have “appeal” at first, but once achieved, it’s hard to distinguish those who are genuine from those who are “false,” leaving the famous struggling to figure out who to “trust.”

2) “Statues and empires are all at your hands, / Water to wine and the finest of sands. / When all that you have’s turning stale and its cold, / Oh you’ll no longer fear when your heart’s turned to gold. / Who can you trust (Who can you trust)”

Statues, empires, water, wine, sands–all that’s listed here seems desirable, but none of it involves a personal relationship, which is what Midas really wanted in the end (at least, he wanted to restore his relationship with his daughter–we’ll generalize it for the song’s sake). Statues are just echos of things that live. Having “empires…at your hands” implies a position of glory, but what’s the point of holding power over so many people if your position depends on people seeing you as superior and untouchable? Turning “water to wine” is a biblical allusion to Jesus’ first miracle during his ministry in which he turned water into wine at a wedding. It’s a powerful allusion for this song because it parallels Midas’ ability to turn what he touches into gold. The line could also be interpreted as having everything from “water to wine,” which would fit into the list of desirable things that don’t involve personal relationships. “The finest of sands” could symbolize having lots of time, since sand measures time in hourglasses and having lots of time isn’t much good if you don’t have someone to spend it with.

The lyrics go on to say when all these material items turn “stale” (when you no longer take pleasure in them) and when “it’s cold” (when you feel like you’ve reached your end), you’ll welcome the transformation of your heart into gold. I can see why people may interpret this transformation as an individual accepting this infectious need for materialism and giving in to the worldly people around him, but I don’t think that fits the rest of the song. Rather, I think the transformation of the heart into gold signifies the heart becoming hollow and the individual becoming numb to his own emotions.

3) “I’m dying to feel again, / Oh anything at all, / But oh I feel nothin’, nothin’, nothin’, nothin'”

These lines fit the idea that the transformation of the heart into gold symbolizes the individual’s numbness to his own emotions. Also, the phrase “dying to feel” is ironic in a fairly depressing way.

I almost didn’t include these last lines for close reading, since I didn’t think they presented anything new, but then I noticed the switch of pronouns. Where the rest of the song talks about “you” being cursed with fame and fortune, these lines use the pronoun “I.” And BOOM–just like that Imagine Dragons makes their song a million times more personal. Now I understand the raw, cacophonous sound of the instruments and vocals as a complement to the speaker’s own discontent.

I don’t like all the songs on Imagine Dragons’ new album, but I must give them credit where credit is due–the band managed to create a completely new sound in many of their tracks, and their lyrics extend beyond the usual simply expressed subject matter of other artists. I also love their collaboration with surrealist artist Tim Cantor; artists should support other artists more often, regardless of field or genre.

All things Imagine Dragon aside, I’m happy to announce I’ve already decided which song to analyze next week! Here’s a BIG hint: Disney will release “Big Hero 6” for home video next Tuesday and I adore one of the songs from the film’s soundtrack.

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2 thoughts on “Focus on the Lyrics Friday: Gold

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed your analysis. I would never have realized what the song is about — just know I like it. I liked “I’ll Bet My Life” the first time I heard it. Imagine Dragon was on Ellen today. After they sang the second song (which I hadn’t heard yet), I decided to purchase the CD. My decision is solidified with your video and analysis. Thank you for the in-depth breakdown of the lyrics.

    Like

    • Thank you! I like that they were so experimental in their new album. Overall, the album has a sort of factory-workplace feel. I love Imagine Dragons for their lyrics, since they take a bit of analysis to understand and often have unique angles and images for their material.

      Like

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