Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise by The Avett Brothers – So I wasn’t going to do a Grammy post. I’m virtually always disappointed with the Grammys, much more so than the Academy Awards. These are the only awards shows I really ever watch and I’m (of course) prone to critique them. I’m especially hard on the Grammys because they fuck it up oh so badly virtually every year. This year I was sure to be super disappointed because the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences had seen fit to nominate The Suburbs in the ever coveted Album of the Year category. This was, what I assumed, their ploy to seem hip. As you all are aware, The Suburbs was my, hands down, album of the year. So being the egomaniac I am, I would take it as a personal affront when it didn’t win. And wife assured me that it would (N.B. not “should.”) lose to something called Lady Antebellum (which, I’ve heard some bad band names in my time, but naming a band after a slave-owning southern bell pre-dating the war betwixt the states rivals Color Me Badd. Their music was every bit the crime-against-humanity Nashville-pop I expected it to be. It makes me queasy). So there was really no reason for me watch at all. However, I really wanted to see AF along with Mumford & Sons and Bob Dylan perform. The Avett Brothers were a treat about whom I had few expectations. Their performance was nice and this song is strong. But I’m not certain the best performance of the night wasn’t Marshall Mathers and Rhianna (is there any song she doesn’t make better?) That shit was powerful. Regardless, the Grammys really got it right at the end and awarded Album of the Year Award to hands down the best album of the year and also my favorite album of the year. That got me thinking. How many times (we’ll say since 2000) have the Grammys actually done this, given their most prestigous award to the actual best album of the year and also my favorite album of the year? The answer is, at least since 2000, exactly one other time. I’ll get to it. First, some things I’ve noticed about the Grammys at least with respect to the Album of the Year. (1) They love collaberations, the mashing together of artists to create some “seminal” piece of work; (2) They love movie soundtracks; (3) They love older artists lobbing up some career hail mary. There are unfortunate examples of all three of these in last ten years. So here’s what I’ll do, I’ll review the Album of the Year awards since 2000 and dismantle them. I’ll tell you what won, what objectively should have won and what my favorite album actually was in that year (N.B. I know I tend to conflate the last two, but I’ll do my best. Bear with.)(N.B. And the years from which the Grammys nominate stuff are fucked up (I think September 30 is the cut-off), but I’ll try and stick with their dates.)
2001 (N.B. for music from 2000) – AOTY – Two Against Nature by Steely Dan. Should have won (“SHW”) Kid A by Radiohead. MF (figure it out) – Binaural by Pearl Jam. This is a pretty clear cut case of everything that’s bullshit about the Grammys. Rip on Radiohead like I love to do, but Kid A is an album for the ages. I couldn’t name a Steely Dan song if you put a gun in my mouth.
2002 – AOTY – O Brother, Where Art Thou? – Soundtrack. SHW – tie Stankonia by Outkast, White Blood Cells by The White Stripes and Is This It? by The Strokes. MF – tie Stankonia, All That You Can’t Leave Behind by U2 and musicforthemorningafter by Pete Yorn. I take it back. This is the clearest case of everything that’s fucked up about the Grammys. What an unbelievable year in music. And what was the best you ask? a compilation of re-engineered folk music lifted from prolly the worst Coen brothers movie. Stankonia is in the conversation for greatest rap album ever. You know how I feel about The Stripes and The Strokes. ATYCLB was the last really good (not great) U2 album. I listened to it a lot. And sweet Pete Yorn. Wow. We need another year like that.
2003 – AOTY – Come Away With Me by Norah Jones. SHW – The Rising by The Boss. MF – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco. I don’t have as big of problem with this as you might expect and it’s prolly because I think I’m kinda sweet on Norah Jones. Come Away With me is a pretty good album. The Rising is not The Boss’ best (and it seems like I like it less every time I listen to it), so it woulda been more of a lifetime achievement award. YHF on the other hand, only gets better. Just to feel good about myself, I need to include: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by The Flaming Lips and Turn on the Bright Lights by Interpol. Place them where you will.
2004 – AOTY/SHW/MF – Speakerboxxx/The Love Below by Outkast. Runners-up in all of these categories, Elephant by The Stripes and American IV: The Man Comes Around by Cash. Honorable Mention: Phrenology by The Roots and Youth and Young Manhood by KOL. What gets me about S/TLB is that people love, love Hey Ya (for good reason) but the truly great stuff is Big Boi’s Speakerboxx. It kills in every way.
2005 – AOTY – Genius Loves Company by Ray Charles. SHW – Funeral by Arcade Fire. MF – tie The Black Album by Jay-Z and Hot Fuss by The Killers. With all respect to Ray Charles, I’m not going to dog his album, but see nos. 1 and 3 above. Funeral grew on me over the course of a year or more, like leprosy. I listened to Jay-Z and The Killers way more that year and loved them both.
2006 – AOTY – How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb by U2. SHW (see below). MF – Aha Shake Heartbreak by KOL. I couldn’t come to a decision for this year other than I’m certain the best album wasn’t this mailed-in turd by U2. The contenders: Silent Alarm by Bloc Party; Alligator by The National; Gimme Fiction by Spoon; Get Behind Me Satan by The White Stripes; Illinois by Sufjan Stevens; or Late Registration by Kanye. But I know that all I did this entire year was listen to Aha Shake Heartbreak. I’ll take you home, or back to Oklahoma.
2007 – AOTY – Not Ready to Make Nice by The Dixie Chicks. SHW – We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions by The Boss. MF – A Blessing and a Curse by Drive-by Truckers. Weird year. This was really close. The DC’s album was really good and the movie (Shut Up and Sing) was even better. OK, now I’ve talked myself out of it. The Seeger Sesssion was a really cool Springsteen album that I really liked a lot (and now I feel like a regular Grammy voter). But I was also fully immersed in my DBT obsession so I wore out A Blessing and a Curse.
2008 AOTY – River: The Joni Letters by Herbie Hancock. SHW – Graduation by Kayne. MF – Sky Blue Sky by Wilco. This was kind of a shitty year for music. My guess is that hard core music critics would award Sound of Silver by LCD Soundsystem as the album of the year. But it has to be some really great and unique techno for me to get behind it. So I’m not really blaming Grammy for the life-time achievement hail mary to Herbie Hancock (who did play with Miles). I haven’t listened to much of River, but I’m certain I will once I get done with Steely Dan. Sky Blue Sky soundtracked the entire summer of ’07. I still love it. FWIW, Neon Bible by Arcade and Icky Thump by The White Stripes also merited SHW/MF consideration for the year.
2009 – AOTY- Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Allison Kraus. SHW – In Rainbows by Radiohead. MF – Brighter Than Creation’s Dark by Drive-by Truckers. Raising Sand was simply constructed to win a Grammy. If only it were also the soundtrack to a Jim Jaramusch movie. It’s OK, but Robert Plant was born to sing Over the Hills and Far Away and not much else. In Rainbows should have won by default and because it’s really pretty good. Brighter Than Creation’s Dark has become my favorite Truckers’ album. Almost everyone I know has tired of my singing Check-out Time in Vegas (wife).
2010 – AOTY – Fearless by Taylor Swift. SHW/MF – Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective. Sweet Taylor, you’re charming. I’ll give you that and you write your own songs (or just set the rants in your diary to music (I guess that’s the same thing)) so you’re already about 200% better than most of what Nashville does today. But Merriweather Post Pavilion is a truly, truly great album. If My Girls is not one of the best songs you’ve heard……well then I just don’t know what to do with you. Nods both to It’s Blitz! by Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs and Album by Girls, but 2009 was Animal Collective’s year.
This was fun. Enjoy The Avett Brothers.