Pop & Hiss

The L.A. Times music blog

« Previous Post | Pop & Hiss Home | Next Post »

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

August 26, 2009 |  6:18 pm



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