Junk on the stereo

When Bob Dylan stepped onto the stage of England’s Royal Albert Hall in 1966, history was made. His sound had evolved, combining both the intimacy of folk music and the raw emotion of rock ‘n’roll. But, above all, his music carried a distinct lyrical flair. Dylans body of work included both brilliantly penned protest songs and psychedelic lyrics with fascinating metaphors and allusions.

Although nearly half the audience booed him that night, Dylan showed what could happen when one mixed both music and poetry, creating music that is lyrically thought provoking. While today Dylans work in the 1960’s is viewed as some of the most influential music of all time because of its deep, poetic lyrics, the music currently being churned out by the masses severely lacks Dylan’s influence on popular music.

A quick glance at the Billboard charts shows bands such as Panic! At the Disco and Fall Out Boy at the top two bands with similar styles, both lyrically and musically. If anything, these bands show just how little regard American audiences have for lyrics. Regardless of this fact, Panic! At the Disco has achieved major commercial success, and their album has gone platinum, reaching as high as No. 13 on the Billboard 200.

The Strokes, another popular modern rock band, also faced criticism for their lyrics. Their latest album, First Impressions of Earth, has been met with mixed reviews-many critics claim that front man Julian Casablancas cannot write lyrics well. The album’s biggest clunker, “Ask Me Anything,” speaks volumes about the band’s lack of lyrical prowess. Casablancas moans, “I’d like to watch, I’d like to read/I’d like a part, I’d like the lead.” Later in the song, he cries, “Don’t be a coconut, God is trying to talk to you/We could drag it out, but thats for other bands to do.” Despite these largely inane lyrics, First Impressions reached No. 3 on the American Billboard charts.

Hawthorne Heights, another wildly successful American rock band, is one of the worst offenders of terrible lyrics. “Saying Sorry,” the first single off their latest album, features an annoyingly unoriginal and repetitious chorus. The band croons, “Saying goodbye this time, the same old story/Seeing you cry, makes me feel like saying sorry.”

Lyrics like the ones mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg. Countless bands follow in the same tradition, making a big sensation when they first emerge on the music scene and then eventually fizzling out. Above all, these bands have shown that lyrics are not necessary to sell music. It is not surprising to see bands enter the studio and simply write lyrics on the spot.

What happened to the days of artists being creative and thinking about incorporating interesting and original concepts into their songs?

There are other artists out there writing great lyrics, but few have crossed over to the mainstream, garnering far less popularity than bands like Panic! At the Disco. For example, Philadelphia indie band mewithoutyou features excellent lyrics littered with subtle Biblical and poetic allusions. In their song “In a Market Dimly Lit,” mewithoutYou vocalist Aaron Weiss sings, “I wrote a little song for you with a melody I borrowed, put to words that didn’t rhyme/to repeat what you already knew as the stones thrown at your window tapped in syncopated time.” The ambiguity of the line allows it to be interpreted different ways; it may refer to a lover or, perhaps more accurately, to God.

Arcade Fire is another band that has a knack for writing original, heartwarming lyrics, as shown on their album Funeral-a concept album dealing with family ties and death. On “Power Out,” one of Funeral’s standout tracks, lead singer Win Butler compares a neighborhood blackout to the indifference of most people, yelling, “Cause the power’s out in the heart of man/take it from your heart, put it in your hand.”

In the end, American audiences will determine where pop music is headed next-only time will tell whether bands will once again place importance on lyrics and song concepts. But if the industry keeps going at its current rate, we may very well be in need of another Bob Dylan.