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Grammy nominations: The anniversary party is over. Time to get risky.

December 2, 2008 |  7:13 pm
Grammys_albumyear

The 50th anniversary is out of the way. The museum opens this week. It's time for the Grammy Awards to leave the past in the display cases.

No more "Rhapsody in Blue" performances on the telecast, and no more duets with dead legends. But most important: no more nominating heritage acts for inferior works to make up for past mistakes. It's time to get the album of the year right on the first go-around.

The Grammy Awards will announce nominations at 9 p.m. Wednesday on CBS, live for the East Coast. It's the first time, as has been noted before, that the Grammys will go prime time with the nomination news conference. Here's hoping the preempting of "Criminal Minds" wasn't all for naught.

One year ago, the Grammys played it safe. Its album of the year nominations read like a checklist. The most prestigious category wasn't a snapshot of the important music of the past 12 months. It was a multi-genre rundown -- the result of Grammy voters covering all their bases.

Rap? Kanye West. The newcomer? Amy Winehouse. Rock? The Foo Fighters. Country? Vince Gill. The legend? Herbie Hancock.You couldn't fault voters for a lack of diversity, but a lack of adventurousness? Absolutely.

Hancock's "River: The Joni Letters" is a fine record. There's nothing inherently wrong with it. Its jazzy-pop interpretations of Joni Mitchell songs are an enjoyable listen -- a jazz record that can comfortably appeal to fans of Norah Jones.

After Jones won the album of the year in 2003 for "Come Away with Me," Grammy voters responded with a relatively challenging album of the year field the following year. Big stars were there (see Justin Timberlake's "Justified"), and so was a middle-of-the-road rock act (see Evanescence's "Fallen"). But "Elephant" from the White Stripes sneaked in, and Missy Elliott snared a long-overdue nomination for "Under Construction." And the winner: OutKast's "Speakerboxx/The Love Below."

But if one is looking to the Grammy nomination special for inspiration, which is given the weighty title of "The Grammy Nominations Concert Live!! -- Countdown to Music's Biggest Night," there's not necessarily reason to expect the unexpected.

To be sure, the Recording Academy has made the right move in going prime time with its nomination announcements, turning a news conference into an event. And the Grammy Museum is another positive step -- its interactive exhibits sure to be a worthy tourist destination. But must the nominations look just like a pared-down Grammy telecast? The usual suspects are all there: John Mayer, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera and the Foo Fighters.

It doesn't bode well for those hoping that the Grammys mix it up a bit when it comes to the album of the year. And that's why these are the Pop & Hiss best bets for album of the year:

Alicia Keys' "As I Am"
The Eagles' "Long Road out of Eden"
Radiohead's "In Rainbows"
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss' "Raising Sand"
Lil Wayne's "Tha Carter III"

But here's the problem: Even those picks seem to be more adventurous than the Grammys will go. With Coldplay's "Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends" in competition, can Radiohead get in, despite the fact that "In Rainbows" is one of the most acclaimed and culturally relevant records of this decade (see the straight-to-Web distribution model)?

And will Lil Wayne, despite having the best-selling album of 2008, be seen as too hard-core for Grammy voters? Maybe, especially when there are albums from B.B. King and Al Green to throw accolades upon. And don't forget British soul newcomer Duffy, who could be this year's Winehouse. But wait -- will major pop stars such as Leona Lewis and Mariah Carey be ignored? Finally, do the Eagles count as country? If not, add Sugarland.

Perhaps this is the safer bet:

Alicia Keys' "As I Am"
The Eagles' "Long Road out of Eden"
Coldplay's "Viva La Vida Or Death and All His Friends"
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss' "Raising Sand"
B.B. King's "One Kind Favor"

But one can hope. After all, we're only two years removed from Gnarls Barkley's "St. Elsewhere" being nominated. And speaking of, the duo of Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse returned this year with the delightfully demented "The Odd Couple," a better record, and one that makes our album of the year wish list:

Gnarls Barkley's "The Odd Couple"
Lupe Fiasco's "The Cool"
Radiohead's "In Rainbows"
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss' "Raising Sand"
TV On the Radio's "Dear Science"

From Lupe Fiasco's cultural critiques to TV on the Radio's electronic-enhanced panic attack, the above lists represents artists that are challenging pop perceptions, yet still providing melodic work. And it's music that's finding a large audience, even if Lupe Fiasco isn't filling Foo Fighter-sized arenas.

And hey, why not? Playing it safe didn't work. Grammy ratings were off 12% last year from the prior year, mirroring the general decline of CD sales. This year -- the Grammys have some fancy new digs to show off in a museum. Here's hoping the Grammy Awards don't become just another relic inside them.

Pop & Hiss will be covering the Grammy nominations as they happen, beginning with red carpet arrivals.

-- Todd Martens

Related: Grammy Museum takes a broad, hands-on approach

Grammy countdown: A look at the best new artist crop

Grammy countdown: Carrie, Sugarland and country album front-runners

Grammy countdown: Which newcomer gets the R&B nod? 

Grammy countdown: Can anyone upset Lil Wayne for best rap album?

Grammy countdown: Metallica, Coldplay and rock album front-runners

Grammy countdown: Estelle, Leona and the record of the year front-runners
 

Photos, from left: The Eagles’ Glenn Frey, courtesy of Luis Sinco of the Los Angeles Times; Alicia Keys, courtesy of Getty Images; Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, courtesy of Getty Images

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