Single Review: Pearl Jam “Love Boat Captain”

Love Boat Captain
Album: Riot Act
Year: 2003

Eddie Vedder believes if more people were compassionate, the world would be a positive place in the purposeful “Love Boat Captain.”

Vedder mumbles along to imploring guitars. The days have begun to blend together, with each day being the same as the one before it. He comments that people instantly feel love but it soon becomes uncertain and agonizing. It can be manipulative and hopeless as people remain mute to other people’s needs. (“Is this just another day,… this god forgotten place?/First comes love, then comes pain. Let the games begin,/Questions rise and answers fall,… insurmountable.”)

As he’s on the metaphorical boat, which symbolizes a place away from the negativity going on around him, he repeats the Beatles’ famous refrain: “all you need is love.” He instructs the captain of the boat to an untainted land. (“Love boat captain/Take the reigns and steer us towards the clear,… here./It’s already been sung, but it can’t be said enough/All you need is love.”)

Natural disasters occur, people self-destruct and then pretend their past didn’t exist. He chides people for being cynical. He adds that once they are able to love themselves, things won’t be as overwhelming. (“Is this just another phase? Earthquakes making waves/Trying to shake the cancer off? Stupid human beings/Once you hold the hand of love,.. it’s all surmountable.”)

He asks his girlfriend to hug him and to be his only reality. His girlfriend is all he has. He’s insignificant in regards to the world. He’s just another person, slugging his way through life. The only religion he has faith in is love. (“Hold me, and make it the truth/That when all is lost there will be you/Cause to the universe I don’t mean a thing/And there’s just one word I still believe/
And it’s…”)

In the second verse, he has become accustomed to his unhappiness. He saw on the news two years ago that nine people had died. He thinks if he had known them, what would they have been like? What were their goals? He wonders if people tire of living and would wish they had only been alive for a couple years less. (“It’s an art to live with pain,… mix the light into grey/Lost 9 friends we’ll never know,.. 2 years ago today/And if our lives became too long, would it add to our regret?”)

He notes that teenagers only think of what’s going on today rather than the big picture. Senior citizens aren’t valued or listened to in society. Life can bring much fear but it won’t go away. It’s always there. (“And the young, they can lose hope cause they can’t see beyond today/The wisdom that the old can’t give away/Hey/Constant recoil/Sometimes life/Don’t leave you alone.”)

The pre-chorus is sung again. (“hold me and make it the truth….love, love, love, love.”)

The chorus ends the single, with Vedder repeating the word “love.”

The introspective “Love Boat Captain” takes awhile to get started. At first, his beliefs seem to be naive. However, as Vedder describes his emotions in better detail the single picks up. The metaphor is imaginative but underdeveloped. The retro pop culture reference (“Love Boat”) suggests that life was easier living on the water and being in a self-contained world.