Sixteen years after its recording, “Oceans” remains one of Pearl Jam’s most delicate, haunting, and enduring tracks, though relatively unhyped in comparison to other monster hits from the band’s early days. As a testament to fidelity across distance the song is beautifully understated, relying on a modicum of words to effectively communicate its themes. The words themselves use ocean-specific language (“the currents will shift”, “please stand by the shore”) accurately and efficiently, matching the sea-sprayed atmosphere the band conjures.
The best part about “Oceans” is that the lyrics inspire confidence that they are referring to a very specific relationship, rather than a metaphorical one. When Vedder sings “hold tight the ring”, I know that its a particular ring he’s referring to, and not the universal love song ring of countless pop songs. At the same time, the song still allows my imagination room to wander within its brief two-and-a-half minutes. I can picture the ring, the beach, etc., however I want, to relate my own experiences of longing, though the line between the song being about its author rather than me is always firmly established. It’s a fine balancing act for an artist to make sure their work is unique enough to them, at the same time allowing audiences to participate. The best any of us can do as writers, actors, painters, or otherwise, is to get people to feel emotion, rather than just describe it. “Oceans” does this remarkably well for what was then a young band.