Behind the Lyrics - "Little Black Submarines"

 

Welcome to "Behind the Lyrics" with Elise Chandler. Each week, I find a song that I feel is understated both musically and lyrically, and I analyze it through several critical lenses.

 

This week, we are looking at another Black Keys hit "Little Black Submarine". Like "Fever", this song stands out not only musically, but also lyrically. Musically, it starts off striped down and builds to an electric climax,adding to the heaviness of this song. 

 

With a first listen, phrases like "little black submarines", "operator please", "told my girl I'd be back", makes the listener think of a military situation. Especially when listeners get into the narrator discussing memories of another time. Is the narrator trapped and reflecting on his life before he has died? This can be supported with the repetition of lines "Oh can it be? The voices calling me. They get lost and out of time. I should've seen it glow, but everybody knows that a broken heart is blind". He is hearing voices (close to the end of death), but he is focused on his disappointment of not getting back to a loved one. This meaning can be supported by textual evidence, but with more reviewing, other meanings can be gathered as well. 

 

Some argue that "the little black submarines" are only supposed to be symbolic. They are like the word "fever" where it can represent whatever troubling topic that appeals to the listener. This is an interesting notion based on the literary theory of Louise Rosenblatt called "Reader Response Theory". "Reader Response Theory" argues that once an author shares their work, it no longer is solely their interpretation. Because of this, several people could listen to this song and gather various interpretations and using textual evidence, they could all be correct as long as they could prove it with strong textual evidence. 

 

With this knowledge in tow, we can look at all the different meanings of "little black submarines". One argument is they represent the dark thoughts of depression. A submarine is picked to physically serve as this symbol because it sinks down into a darkness and titters on the edge of death. If it is hit, it could be the end. This idea is also supported by phrases like "voices calling me". No matter how much the narrator tries to fight the depression, it calls them back, personifying the dark thoughts and dragging them down deeper. "Stolen friends and disease" supports this idea because the narrator feels like the disease of depression has stolen their happiness and friends away because they do not feel like doing anything. The music itself supports this theory because as the song continues, the music climaxes suggesting perhaps a suicide at the end? Dark stuff. 

 

There are many, many interpretations of this song, but let's look at one more. Some argue that the narrator is in a coma. The "operator" is God, and the narrator is trying to reach out to his loved ones as seen in the line "put me back on the line". He is trying to beg and plead with the operator to see the importance of why he needs to go back through mentions of a loved one and his wonderful memories to try to convince God it is not time. However, through the mention of "voices" and "a broken heart", we can assume it was the narrator's time. 

 

Very interesting indeed. But isn't that what good music does? Until next time. 

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