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

Grammy Awardspreview

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

Comments () | Archives (12)

Lets face it -- the Grammys have always been crap. I can't wait for when they put out the ads that say, "best show we've ever had -- featuring Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Metallica and an esmeble piece with Aerosmith." (All set to sounds of explosions.)

The Grammys were giving statues to Sinatra when the Beatles were making records. Unlike the Oscars or the Emmy's, the organization is fundamentally incapable of making decisions that reflect the years in which they are made, and I don't see that changing. The recording industry that uses the Grammys to pat itself on the back is crumbling, and as the majors fall apart, maybe theses crappy awards will go by the wayside.

I love the Grammys.

Isn't the Radiohead CD only "culturally relevant" because of the way it was sold? I love the CD, but it's not like it was all that popular. Hasn't it pretty much been forgotten at this point except by critics and die-hard Radiohead fans?

I understand wanting less obvious/commercial winners, but at the same time the Grammys have to stay relevant with the public. If you had a show filled with Radiohead, Gnarls Barkley, and TV On The Radio, the Grammys would get moved to MTV2 and would fade into obscurity.

And let's be real; if critics decided these things, all of the winners would be white rock bands.

radiohead...in rainbows. what a joy! d

anyone who does not see that the cultural significance of "in rainbows" by radiohead goes way beyond the "delivery method" does not get it...take another listen please. this band is years ahead of their time in the music they make as well as the message they deliver. enough cotton candy cookie cutter manufactured fodder please. its not about how many pre teens buy singles from itunes and the like. it's about albums and the context in which they are made...cheers!

Ah the 70's and 80's... The 90's took us over a cliff and we've never returned to the glory of those years regarding music. To the youngsters out there: Keep digging through your parents records and in the bins of the used vinyl. There's gold there. (Find all the Weather Report albums you can get your hands on - especially those with Jaco Pastorious). Jaco - THE greatest bass player ever). Stevie Ray Vaughn. Prince. Zepplin. Tower of Power. P-Funk Allstars. Bootsy Collins. George Clinton. Parliament. OLD Cameo (from the 70's way before Word Up...) Stanley Clarke. The Pretenders....... And on and on.
To be sure, there's some gems in all eras of music. But Alicia Keys? Kanye West. Puleeeze.... We out. Peace.

As a longtime Radiohead fan, I think their most "relevant" disc would have to be Kid A, if only because the production techniques and song structures (distorted vocals, relentless multi-tracking, pop tunes built into avant garde sounds) have really come to define the mainstream of music in the last decade. I mean, Yorke beating up his voice in certain ways made way for Kanye's "808's..." shift. "In Rainbows" isn't all that revolutionary from a sound perspective, but I think it might be their most cohesive record overall. Does that make it the best of the year? I sympathize with the view that rockist critics would turn towards white men's rock when picking winners, but understand that the blogosphere has dramatically increased the amount of criticism going on out there, and I think that rather than relying on the academy that picks Grammy winners to pick what's relevant that the practice should be more diffuse. I think.
@ Mr. Booty
I can dig on Weather Report, Arthur Russel, Can, and The Incredible Bongo Band while at the same time appreciating that there is amazing music being produced right now. I don't like the new Kanye record, but "Late Registration" was solid, Lil' Wayne is kind of a genius, and LCD Soundsystem et al. are doing more to make interesting dance music than many bands in the past few decades. We all need to open our ears.

I can't understand all the negative press about the Grammy Awards recently. It's become pretty cliche to diss the awards for being "out of touch" or "boring".

I, for one, enjoy watching the awards each year. I appreciate the history. I respect the academy. I enjoy the different collaberations. It's a celebration of music...what can be better? Everyone that rips on the Grammy Awards should get an original thought.

By the way, long live the Polka Category! And please please please give it to someone OTHER than Jimmy Sturr!!!

@Mr. Booty

A sad trend that started way before the 90's is that the main stream music labels developed this philosophy that the most creative and most artistically gifted musicians are not always the most marketable and tend to be too controversial to be successful (disco and new wave for example). This is a problem that has spiraled out of control during this decade and is probably the real reason why main stream music is in the jam it's in right now. as sated in this article, the grammys are no exception to the fear of getting away from music that is "marketably safe." I'm truly sorry that your impression of our generation's music comes from Alicia Keys and Kanye West (to be honest, I've never actually met an Alicia Keys fan). There are plenty of phenomenal musicians that are still around but the only difference between our generations is that we have to put in a little more work to find it. Even though there are a few very talented artist who become pop icons (like Lil' Wayne, Radiohead, and The White Stripes for example), most of the great musicians tend to reach a barrier in there carrier and are over look far too often. Bands like Spoon, LCD Soundsystem, My Morning Jacket, and Vampire Weekend are often over looked by much of the main stream and I would be astonished if any of these bands ever made a Gammy appearance. Even in Hip Hop, artist like The Roots never get the recognition and attention they deserve. There are plenty of talented artist around today and I get pretty frustrated when people say how bad of shape the music industry is in now when the only bad part about music is the top 40 and the Grammy winners. If you want to find great musicians that are around today, I would suggest finding your information from bloggers, music festivals, or music sites like pandora rather than the Grammys. So in other words, do a little research before you start criticizing our music.

Amen, Mr. Booty!!!
Well said!!!

Wade - The Roots haven't made good music in years.


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