Damon Albarn of Blur isn’t a fan of what’s on the radio these days. "Look at music now,” he told The Sunday Times earlier this month. “Does it say anything? Young artists talk about themselves, not what’s happening out there. It’s the selfie generation. They’re talking platitudes."
Is that the sound of a middle-aged musician making like middle-aged musicians everywhere and sniping ignorantly at Kids These Days, or is it a valuable critique of the vapid mainstream? Take your pick. In either case, Albarn's comment is also a salvo in that universal record-geek bargument over whether lyrics truly matter. The reasonable answer is “sometimes” or “it depends”: Many classic songs have nonsense words, and many decent ones have been elevated by their poetry. But Albarn speaks for a lot of people when he implies that, in general, culture is worse off when songwriters just spit out cliches and faux-introspection instead of trying to communicate something about the wider world.
The irony is that Blur offered one of the all-time-great pieces of evidence in favor of the idea that it doesn't matter what music says: The woohoo-laden “Song 2” tried to parody U.S. rock radio and ended up ruling it, with most American listeners never getting that the joke was on them. In Britain, where Blur were far more popular than in the States, the band's subversive edge has been more widely understood. But with the release of The Magic Whip, Blur's first album in 12 years, much of the coverage on both continents has focused on Blur as Blur, rehashing the old Britpop mythology and puzzling over the relationships between the members rather than focusing on what Albarn’s music says.