I'm Clifford Stumme, and I use literary analysis and research to explain the deeper meanings of pop songs. Feel free to leave a comment or to email me at with questions or ideas!

What does "Mouth of the River" by Imagine Dragons mean?

What does "Mouth of the River" by Imagine Dragons mean?

"Mouth of the River" Lyrics Meaning

I've heard some bad things about Evolve so far. In fact, some of those things came from reviewers before the rest of us even got to hear the album. Two song reviewers that I trust gave it 3 and 2.5 stars out of 5 respectively, but I still fought to disbelieve that Imagine Dragons could turn out anything less than stellar. And I'm still fighting that. I'm just starting my explanation process. In fact, I've only explained the four singles, and I'm explaining "Mouth of the River" because it was one of ARTV's favorite tracks from the album. 

"I wanna live a life like that"

And I have to say that I like what I'm hearing here. "Mouth of the River" combines a unique musical sound with lyrics that mean something and are honest. I know most of my explanations highlight honesty in song lyrics, and I may be overdoing it, but I'm "honestly" so starved--and I think many other song listeners are too--for honesty and "realness" in my music that even the smallest amounts of it excite me. But thankfully I'm not scrounging for tidbits when listening to "Mouth of the River." Dan Reynolds and Imagine Dragons deliver their signature vulnerability in this song.

Verse 1

I wanna live a life like that
Live the life of the faithful one
Wanna bow to the floor
With everybody else wanna be someone
I wanna make some love
I don't want no enemies
Oh, it's the curse of the man
Always living life, living life, living just to please

The verses in this song tell a story of inadequacy. Dan Reynolds and Imagine Dragons make clear in "Mouth of the River" that they aren't who they want to be. Imagine Dragons tells us, "I wanna live a life like that / Live the life of the faithful one." Perhaps the band is comparing itself to a devoutly religious person, and when they do, they see their own moral lacking and wish to improve.

They also "[w]anna bow to the floor / With everybody else . . ." a line that suggests he wants to fit in but also connotes the desire to be spiritually attuned in the line previous. But perhaps more than this desire to be "[w]ith everybody else," Dan Reynolds makes it clear that wants to live an extraordinary life--a common theme for the songs on Evolve. He sings that he wants to "be someone," we assume someone successful. He wants to "make some love" but doesn't "want no enemies." He wants a good life that involves friends and doesn't hurt or anger others. And he complains that "it's the curse of the man / Always living life, living life, living just to please." He doesn't want his life to be about he makes others happy. He wants to focus on fulfilling himself and his own ambitions. 


Oh, the mouth of the river
And the wrath of the giver
With the hands of a sinner
Oh, the mouth of the river

Here, Dan Reynolds sings about "the mouth of the river," a mysterious metaphor that literally describes a place where a comparatively small stream of fresh water flows into a larger body of salt water. It's almost as if though he's describing that point at which he himself "flows" out into the larger world and interacts with it, testing himself on the environment he finds there. He seems to be the "mouth of the river" himself.

He also seems to have the "wrath of the giver" as he pours himself into this new environment, but he's also aware of his own limitations as a person when he reminds us that the has "the hands of a sinner." He's made mistakes, so he goes into this challenging of self with his hands pre-bloodied.

Verse 2

Oh, I'm alkaline
I'm always keeping to the basics
I'm overboard
I'm self-destructive
And self-important
And I'm anxious
Oh, I'm self-assured
I'm nervous
And I'm pacing, oh, I'm pacing

Reynolds feels "alkaline," which could be a reference to him being energized like an alkaline battery. And he then tells us that he's "always keeping to the basics" meaning he stays simple and focused. But within those basics, he's will to go "overboard" to reach his goals, and as long as his goals get accomplished, he's okay with being "self-destructive" along the way. He also admits that he's anxious, probably nervous about reaching his goals, but he's still "self-assured" and confident when he needs to be. Of course he contradicts that in the next line (but also succeeds in giving texture to who he is) when he sings, "I'm nervous / And I'm pacing . . ." Sometimes, he feels ready for anything, but the weight of what he tries to do seems to keep him from staying so confident 100% of the time.


And I am going under
Oh, I am going under
I am going under
Oh, I am going under
I am going under

In the bridge, Dan Reynolds shares even more clearly his anxiety. He's set up difficult goals for himself, and he's made huge strides towards accomplishing them, but he still feels like he's "going under." He's afraid he'll fail, and he feels overwhelmed.

Deeper Meaning of "Mouth of the River": "Going under"

"Mouth of the River" gives a slightly more complex look to the self-assured themes in "Believer," "Thunder," and "Whatever It Takes." Dan Reynolds exposes his own vulnerability to us here as he tells us that he gets anxious and is afraid of "going under" as a result of his own ambition or just the pressures of daily life. We do know that he struggles with depression and likely some other serious physical diseases that make his life difficult and his accomplishments all the more impressive. But we don't know anything more specific about the struggles that he's talking about here. That makes it harder for us to empathize with him, but, even still, I think the ideas here are ones that we can at least relate to on some level. 

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