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Grammys 2010: An early look at album of the year contenders (Part 1)



Good news, perhaps, for Kanye West. He'll have a little less competition to worry about when it comes to scoring some Grammy nominations.

For the first time ever, the Grammy eligibility year has been moved up from the end of September to the final day of August. In making the change, the eligibility period for the 2010 Grammy Awards was shortened to 11 months (the Grammy year will be back to a 12-month cycle, with the new qualifying dates, for the 2011 awards). 

Ultimately, this means that heavy hitters such as Mariah Carey and Jay-Z will now have to wait until 2011 to see their albums get Grammy recognition. An album now must be released no later than Aug. 31 to be in the Grammy running.

That means it's time to look at the albums most likely to be lauded by Recording Academy voters in the album of the year field, Grammys' biggest prize. Note, however, what follows is not a reflection of the year's best albums. No discussion of that sort could happen without mention of St. Vincent's "Actor," Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "It's Blitz!" and on and on and on. 

For now, however, get your pencils and scorecards ready. Here's an early look at some of the works most likely to receive album of the year attention when Grammy nominations are unveiled at the end of the year.

This is only Part 1 of the installment. Pop & Hiss will be back before the Aug. 31 deadline with another five albums, and we'll see how wrong we all were in December.

Kanye West, '808s & Heartbreak'

Grammy potential: West would probably be considered a given here. Every album he has released has been nominated for the top prize and each, of course, has lost. One could make a case that they all should have won, especially in regards to the albums they were up against (yes, that is directed at the coffee-sipping compilation of tepid Ray Charles tunes that is "Genius Loves Company," which won in 2005). There's been some chatter that "808s" may not be a sure thing, as it's a departure for the artist, and its lead single, "Love Lockdown," was submitted and not nominated last year. Nonsense -- this is as guaranteed an album of the year contender as there is in this eligibility period.

Grammy deserving: Absolutely. In the months since its late 2008 release, the four singles from "808s" have showcased the album's subtle yet stark complexity and passionate, from-the-heart lyrics. Its use of Auto-Tune, while some may consider it a trend, was far from typical. Vocals in songs such as "Heartless" and "Amazing" are tweaked ever so slightly, actually adding some warmth to the album's cold subject matter and minimalist electronics. Once again, for the fourth time in his career, West has delivered an album worthy of album of the year honors.

Lady Gaga, 'The Fame'

Grammy potential: Kanye's touring partner and fashion oddity, Lady Gaga will undoubtedly continue to score headlines between now and when nominations are released. Additionally, her album isn't showing any real signs of slowing down, only recently dropping out of the top 10. Issued in the U.S. just after Grammy eligibility period ended last October, "The Fame" has sold well over 1.3 million copies to date, and Grammy voters aren't going to overlook those kind of stats. Additionally, she was passed up for a best new artist nod at the 2009 awards, and that wrong will be corrected.

Grammy deserving: There's no denying that hits such as "Poker Face" and "Just Dance" are catchy, hard-to-resist electric dance numbers. Also, Lady Gaga brings a much-needed larger-than-life personality to the pop landscape. But listen to her record from start to finish, and there's little sense of the Lady Gaga identity. She follows in a long line of slightly risque, fashion-crazy pop artists, and while she certainly seems outrageous enough to develop a signature sound, she's not there yet. Finally, the production on the album was overshadowed by the Black Eyed Peas' "The E.N.D." She can't be counted out here, but she should be left to the pop fields.

The Dead Weather, 'Horehound'

Grammy potential: Jack White's been nominated in the top category before, back in 2004. Yet that year was sort of an anomaly -- one of the most adventurous album of the year fields in recent memory (Missy Elliott and OutKast were also nominated). But no matter, voters pay attention to what White releases, and the Alison Mosshart-fronted Dead Weather will pick up steam into the fall, as the Dead Weather will be near the top of a bevy of critics' year-end lists. For what it's worth, not since Evanescence was nominated for album of the year in 2004 has a rock band with a frontwoman been honored in this category, and voters need to make up for lost time.

Grammy deserving: Helping the Dead Weather's case is the fact that the band speaks a language Grammy voters understand: Rock 'n' blues with a definite Led Zeppelin influence. As an added bonus to voters who have seen them live, the Dead Weather has covered Bob Dylan. But yes, the band has the pedigree, the chops and the talent. As a singer, Mosshart can be a bit frightening, a bit sexy and she's never less than fierce."Horehound" isn't a front-runner, at least not yet, but it's definitely in the discussion. While this won't necessarily affect Recording Academy voters, don't think that Grammy producers aren't salivating over a televised spot that reunites Dead Weather drummer/White Stripes guitarist White with his "It Might Get Loud" cohorts Jimmy Page and the Edge.

U2, 'No Line on the Horizon'

Grammy potential: It's U2, friends. This is the band that opened the 2009 Grammy Awards, despite not even having an album in contention during last year's eligibility period.The band won album of the year for "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" in 2006, and also won for "The Joshua Tree" in 1988. That being said, the album isn't generating the kind of sales heat that greeted "Atomic Bomb," and no single from "No Line" has truly broken out. Yes, "No Line" and U2 will be nominated for multiple Grammys, but the only question is where.

Grammy deserving: Here's where things get a little interesting. U2's last two albums were nominated for album of the year trophies, the aforementioned "Atomic Bomb," plus "All That You Can't Leave Behind" in 2002. But "No Line" is a significantly better record than both. It's not perfect -- witness the predictably sparkly phone-in-the-air rock ballad "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" -- but by and large, "No Line" is U2 back to its risk-taking self. "Moment of Surrender," in particular, is an extended gospel-influenced rock 'n' soul cut that's all about relaxing into a groove rather than going for the stadium chorus. In short, if voters recognized U2's last two albums, they can't overlook this one, as it's the superior effort.

Allen Toussaint's 'The Bright Mississippi'

Grammy potential: This fits in nicely in that Herbie Hancock slot, in that it's a jazz record with a pop appeal. There are other factors here, in that Toussaint this year received a Recording Academy Trustee's Award and performed on the Grammys with Lil Wayne in a tribute to New Orleans. He's a veteran, respected artist, and one from a genre not typically rewarded in the major categories. Betting on any jazz album for an album of the year nod is a long shot, of course, but Toussaint's an early sleeper pick.

Grammy deserving: "The Bright Mississippi" is a collection of early jazz tunes, and was produced by another known Grammy entity in Joe Henry. It's a showcase for Toussaint, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member (Grammy voter bait alert), who provides elegant renditions of the songs that framed his youth in New Orleans, reworking Thelonious Monk's "Bright Mississippi" and Duke Ellington's "Solitude," among others. The album may certainly be relegated to the jazz fields, especially since it's largely absent of vocals, but Toussaint is long overdue for Grammy recognition, and New Orleans remains a topical subject.

Pop & Hiss will be back with five more albums in the coming days.

--Todd Martens

Photo, top left: Kanye West. Credit: Associated Press
Photo, top middle: The Dead Weather. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times
Photo, top right: Lady Gaga. Credit: Getty Images

Comments () | Archives (34)

the ledendary Miss Britney Spears has to be nomined


The writer had it right, this is not about the "best" album, it's about the album that the Grammy voters feel best accurately represents where the sound of popular music (in the U.S. alone, never mind Europe) is right now, and therefore they can *never* make the right choice.

Taylor Swift, Kanye, U2, Allen Toussaint, and Lady Gaga all represent different constituencies. Swift and Gaga may have a bit of fanbase crossover, but not much.

The world is far different than 1983, when "Thriller" could justifiably have been said to reflect society at large. Now, music is so balkanized, you can't even get consensus within the genre awards (Best Alternative album, Best Metal album, Best Hip Hop album, etc) So much product is released yearly (about 5,000 albums this year, and that's DOWN from 2008) it's nearly impossible to do so.

I'm not ragging on the Grammys, I mean...we HAVE to have them. But I've long since given up on thinking that the actual awards mean anything, really.

LEONA LEWIS deserves a Grammy

That's rich, you clearly do not know what you are talking about. Lady Gaga, who writes all of her songs including her smash hits, does not deserve album of the year? Yet, Kanye West, who's 808 is all machine does??? Give me a break, you suck as a writer anyways..

I was a bit shocked that Gaga walked out with no awards at the AMAs. I'm really hoping that "The Fame" does her some justice next year.

Hi there, in response to your 2010 projections, I noticed the sympathy for Kanye West. No problem, you dig him. While he 'should have won' is an argument for many, why do you point the finger at Ray Charles? Why would anybody beat Ray Charles in a musical competition...he's a musical genius, he's blind, crossed all genres, etc. Ray could put out almost anything and many of your readers would consider it more qualified then all people contending for a grammy in 2005. I'm 65 and have many, many friends who read this lovely newspaper, and we almost never see our own opinions printed. While you might please quite a few under 40, there's a slew of us who just don't get it...Perhaps there's something wrong with me. What I do know is that while I was blessed to learn from the likes of Little Richard and Billy Preston, I thought I was doing something right with music. I liked knowing I could give somebody without sight some real satisfaction. How much does sound count?

Where is Dave Matthews Band? Big Whiskey & the Gru Grux King is a work of ART & MUSIC!!!

Lady GaGa has been the most refresing artist to hit the music industry since Cyndi Lauper. I would love to see "The Fame" and her singles take home a few awards. She has done it the grassroots way...working her way up without winning a competition or having mommy and daddy push her into the spotlight. True talent will always win.

the grammys have a history of screwing things up, like the time they chose Will Smith over B.I.G.

maaaaan, there are like 10 times when they've majorly screwed up: http://mog.com/MOG_Features/blog/1731195

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