Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Great Grammy Questionnaire: Album of the Year

Previously: Song of the Year

Our category-by-category dissection of the last 20 years of questionable (and occasionally appropriate) Grammy decisions continues!


Most Offensive Winner: It was pretty bad in 2005 when the Ray Charles nostalgia tour hooked up with the wake of Norah Jones's 2003 awards outburst and produced an Album win that bested Green Day's "American Idiot," Kanye's "College Dropout," "The Diary of Alicia Keys," and Usher's "Confessions."

But while '05 saw four very good albums defeated, 1997 saw three great ones -- Smashing Pumpkins' "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness," The Fugees' "The Score," and Beck's "Odelay" (plus, okay, "The Waiting to Exhale" soundtrack) -- all bested by ... Celine Dion's "Falling Into You." You guys, I'll defend "It's All Coming Back to Me Now" all day, but this Grammy was egregious. [Mark says: Tony Bennett, "MTV Unplugged" (1995)]

Most Surprisingly Appropriate Winner: There have been a handful of winners in the last 20 or so years I've enjoyed -- Outkast, Lauryn Hill -- but none that felt more like a triumph of THE album of my year more than Alanis Morissette winning in 1996 for "Jagged Little Pill." That album defined that year for me, and as far as I'm concerned it still holds up. Petty concerns about Webster's definition of irony notwithstanding. [Mark says: "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" (1999)]

Most Egregiously Passed-Over Nominee: 1998 should not have even been a question. I understand that Bob Dylan's "Time Out of Mind" was received with hosannas by major music critics (i.e., Rolling Stone), but looking at the year with any kind of perspective, Dylan, Babyface ("The Day"), Paula Cole ("This Fire"), and a typically boilerplate Paul McCartney ("Flaming Pie") should have been total cannon fodder for Radiohead's "OK Computer." Take Thom Yorke and Co. out of the mix and that is a brutal field. And, as ever, Radiohead gets no love for making everybody else look better by association. [Mark says: "OK Computer"]

Most Past-Their-Moment Nominee: Speaking of McCartney, he's a nominee here for his 1998 AND 2006 nominations, both albums which didn't produce a single song you or I have ever heard. Other almost-but-not-quites: Paul Simon ("You're the One") and Beck ("Midnite Vultures") in 2001, and Pearl Jam in 1996 for "Vitalogy," which wasn't a bad album, but not good enough to make up for the omissions of "Vs." and "Ten" in previous years. No, I'm going with the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 2007, for that album that had "Dani California" on it. Blah. [Mark says: Radiohead, "In Rainbows" (2009)]

Worst Field: With all due lack of respect for the 2002 field (India Arie, more Bob Dylan, and a win for the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack that seems less cool with each passing year), 1995 completely takes the cake, and I don't expect much argument from my counterpart. Eric Clapton's cloying "From the Cradle," (the admittedly awesome) Bonnie Raitt's third iteration of the same album, "Longing in Their Hearts," one of Seal's albums that were titled "Seal" (probably the one with "Kiss From a Rose" on it), a particularly embarrassing win by Tony Bennett (for an UNPLUGGED album!), and...the piece de re-shit-stance ... "The Three Tenors in Concert." Oh, how I wish I was concocting an elaborate joke field. [Mark says: 1995]

Best Field: Of course, the very next year rebounded with a great lineup: the aforementioned "Jagged Little Pill" beat out Mariah Carey's "Daydream" (maybe her best album), Joan Osborne's super-underrated "Relish," and Pearl Jam's "Vitalogy." And, okay, Michael Jackson's "HISstory," which is why '96 is merely a runner up.

As for the winner, it's so close between 1999 and 2004, that I think I need to break it down. Feel like getting crazy? (Note: I pretty much like all these albums to some degree or another; there are no losers here.) Okay, so 1999 had the better alternative critics-fave (Garbage's "Version 2.0" over The White Stripes' "Elephant") and the better weakest link (Shania Twain's "Come on Over" bests Evanescence's "Fallen"). 2004 had the better alpha-female dance album (Missy Elliott's "Under Construction" over Madonna's "Ray of Light") and the better mainstream solid-but-they've-been/will-be-better effort (Justin Timberlake's "Justified" tops Sheryl Crow's "The Globe Sessions"). So it comes down to the better highbrow hip-hop winner ... and in a squeaker I give it to Outkast's "Speakerboxx/The Love Below" over "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill." By, like, a millimeter. Winner: 2004. [Mark says: 1999]

Worst U2 Nomination: 2006, when they actually won for "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb." [Mark says: "All That You Can't Leave Behind"]

1 comment:

Jeff Hansen said...

A) Really? Vitalogy got nominated? That album is like 70% awful. Second worst PJ album, after the latest one (the self-titled one, which apparently I am the only who hates).

B) Staidum Arcadium is awesome. For a double album, it has a shockingly high percentage of listenable songs.