Pearl Jam, Sirens: inside the meaning of the lyrics

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Among the classics of Pearl Jam’s most recent history, Sirens sings of the urgency of reality. And it does it directly, creating a mutual, constant correspondence between music and words. Sirens sings of fear; of things that fade before our very eyes.

What cannot leave you indifferent is the depth nestled between the words. It’s precisely this interweaving between those deep meanings and the ease with which you can listen to them, that marks the beauty of this song.

Have to take your hand, and feel your breath
For fear this someday will be over
I pull you close, so much to lose
Knowing that nothing lasts forever

The main characteristic of the lyrics is this dialectical conflict between the progressive degradation of reality and the need for stability, under a “simple” romantic context. It’s the search for an anchor that can save us from the swift passing of time, and that can help us control our days. This fear is hidden within human relationships, specifically within love.

Nothing lasts, everything fades the moment it has occurred: the act of touching a lover’s body, or holding their hand, is nothing but an attempt to escape death, to win over the void. Love is a fragile, human thing, but it’s able to revitalise a fragile life, fighting the death that is always around us (“It’s a fragile thing / This life we lead / […] With death over our shoulders”).

I didn’t care before you were here,
I danced in laughter with the ever after
But all things change
Let this remain

There is no space for empty laughter, or for the ambitions of those who look towards the eternity without acknowledging the present or living within it. This blind dance to preserve love is therefore a ritual, a celebration of contacts and breaths:

Let me catch my breath and breathe
And reach across the bed
Just to know we’re safe
I am a grateful man
The slightest bit of light
And I can see you clear

Of course the sirens are signs (“Hear the sirens / Covering distance in the night”): they warn you about danger and tension, so the singer remains awake, prepared to face fear and the sounds of the city become warnings of the passing of time (“The sound echoing closer”). But and at the same time, they seem to come from somewhere else (“Will they come for me next time?”). It’s a persistent distraction from dialogue with a beloved one.

The enchantment, mixed with fear, then becomes an error; a journey weakened by the humanity we are all inescapably made of (“For another choice, I have done / For any wrong choice I made / It is not part of my plans / Send you into the arms / Of another man”). But, once again, it’s within love that Eddie Vedder’s voice finds its shelter. It’s in the delicate balance of love that we can feel safe. The “slightest bit of light” in the darkness. And when we accustom our eyes to this darkness, we can finally see who we are looking for: “I study your face / And the fear goes away”.

Recognising the shapes of one’s beloved means, therefore, staying connected to life: returning consistency and meaning to what has already been devoured by time.

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