It's amusing to think of a song like this as a world existing in a literal sense in Linnell's mind. Does he really envision an actual woman who has developed gills and the like? Well, I'm gonna burst your [air] bubble and look at all this silliness as a metaphor.
"Underwater" can have a ton of different meanings, but let's think of it in this context as someone who has become burdened with the suffocating weight of life, like the narrator in Unpronounceable (or hey, even Louisiana). She has likely had some major disappointments or missed opportunities, hence she spends her time "Frantically digging through a pile of old papers / Intently staring at a photograph" and regretting the choices she made. It's driven her somewhat insane--she is "Laughing uncontrollably" and talking into a shell that she sees as a phone.
Despite all of this, she has adapted to her isolation, and managed to survive. Sadly, because of her choice to abandon the world, "No one can tell when she cries." (That is a really poignant line, by the way, especially in the absurdist context of the song.)
On the band's Facebook page, somebody snarky said something like, "Just send her some underwater cats and she'll be fine." Perhaps she's a natural introvert, but she seems to be doing OK. After all, she is hydroponically grown. :-) --MisterMe (talk) 13:33, 2 April 2015 (EDT)
This may be a very personal interpretation, but I think there's a case to be made for the underwater woman slowly slipping into senile dementia, losing her connections to her memories (no matter how much time she spends with her old papers and photographs) and the world around her. In the first verse we get her image of herself as capable and strong and thriving, but by the third verse, when we get the view from the shore, it's pretty clear that she's falling apart in some tragic ways.
The shell as telephone is an especially powerful image, because when you listen to a shell you hear the sound of the ocean--but it's actually the shell reflecting the sounds in your own head (your blood and heartbeat) back to you. And she talks back to it because she can't tell what's inside or outside of her head anymore.
It's a very sad song.
THIS JUST IN: "Underwater Woman Longs To Sell Seashells Down By The Seashore"
She is just that, an underwater woman, who grew into existence along the rocky, sandy bottom of a clear-water lagoon. She did not need soil to nourish her. All of the nutrients necessary to sustain life were present in the water all around. But what of her social needs?
Using an innate super sonic ability, the underwater woman scanned the lagoon floor and found a graveyard of sunken ships. She walked (didn't swim, because she's an underwater woman, not a mermaid) to the site and raided their hulls for booty, especially for trinkets that hailed from the culture, above. She found a brush, a briefcase full of important-looking papers, a few glamour magazines, a framed community college diploma, a photograph, and a delicious-looking pear with only one bite missing. She now occupies herself with these items, trying to imagine what it must be like NOT to be hydroponically grown. What an amazing life those humans must live, up there.
The people along the shore can never know the painful longing felt by the underwater woman. To them, she is just another cryptid, a tourist attraction, a fad.
She pulls out the photograph. It's of a beautiful human face, laughing while talking into a telephone receiver. It's a face the underwater woman would like to know.
She looks up. The numerous reflected faces of human beings are shimmering along the under-surface of the water. They are all standing at the shoreline, peering into the depths at her. Some are pointing. Some are laughing, but it doesn't feel good, not like in the photograph. This kind of laughing hurts her in her belly region.
She can never leave the bottom of the lagoon. Here, she must remain, always separated from her dream of living and loving among the ever-so-intriguing surface dwellers. She's no longer laughing into the seashell that she has been pretending is a telephone. There's no one to take her call. Their statuses are all set to "away."
[By Jeff F. Haines]
Super-Hi-Tech Underwater Spy Lady
Whenever I hear this song, it makes me think of some super-hi-tech-underwater-spy-lady. "Self-contained, properly trained" makes me think of spy training. And obviously she has some pretty cool spy gadgets. Scanning the ocean floor with ultrasonic blips? Sounds like something a spy would do. "Who is she talking to, holding up a shell like it's a telephone?" Maybe she's reporting the mission status to her client through a comm device hidden in a seashell. "Frantically digging through a pile of old papers, intently staring at a photograph." Probably, she's found the info she's supposed to give to her client.
Just a guess.
This-along with many other TMBG songs-is something that I think should be taken completely literally. So there we have the fact that she is an underwater woman, and a list of what she does. I would mostly like to focus on the lyric "fiercely alive, will to survive, able to thrive on her own." Fiercely alive, along with the title Underwater Woman, which to me seems to go out of it's way to specify that she is not a mermaid, is very interesting. It seems like the narrator thinks she is doing something daring, controversial, maybe even vulgar just by living. The narrator makes it seem like just by living she is making a statement, like she's some sort of protester. Her life isn't just improbable, it's fierce-and maybe even a little dangerous to the narrator. The rest of the song goes on to describe what makes her living such a scene, which is basically describing how she does completely normal things, but underwater. As if she, through force of will, is able to function exactly like she would if she were on the surface. And since she is already surrounded by water, no one can tell when she cries, and since no one on the shore will ever no what's in her heart, that seems to imply that their is a sadness in her heart. Also, for some reason she appears to have ultrasonic powers and was hydroponically grown (I honestly have no idea what that part means.)
All The Lonely People
An urban Eleanor Rigby for the age of Tinder. Outwardly self-sufficient, she is sometimes driven a bit nutty by the crushing isolation of contemporary life. Her electric search for companionship turns up empty. I interpret "hydroponically grown" to mean she was born into this sad place. It's part of her native culture to be trained and prepared for her aquatic wasteland. --Nehushtan (talk) 08:58, 12 September 2019 (EDT)