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Grammy predictions: There'll be no straying from the beaten path

Sunday, February 18, 2001

By Ed Masley, Post-Gazette Pop Music Critic

Will Grammy have the courage to make the wrong decision Wednesday night? It's an interesting new dilemma for the pandering old dinosaur. On the one hand, Grammy's almost always made the wrong decision. On the other hand, there's never been much courage shown on Grammy night.

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So where does that leave Eminem, a killer clown who's sold more hate than Hitler? After all, he's up for Album of the Year. Will Grammy risk the wrath of people with a conscience everywhere and further validate the rapper's war on gays and women?

More than likely not. The out-of-touch award show has already gotten everything it could have hoped for out of nominating Eminem.

It's gotten people talking.

About the Grammys.

As multiple winner Barry Manilow would sing, "It's a miracle, a true blue spectacle."

If not the Album of the Year, then, what can Eminem expect on Grammy night, beyond the free publicity and sex? I think it's safe to say he'll win his share of rap awards, where nearly every nominee is selling hate, so Grammy doesn't look so bad in context if the winner likes to rap relentlessly about the slaughter of women and gays.

That narrows the race for Album of the Year to four, including likely winner Steely Dan. To win, the Dan would have to beat "Kid A," a new album from Radiohead that's head and shoulders -- mostly head -- above the other nominees.

The second-most deserving nominee is Beck, whose "Midnite Vultures" is a carefree bump 'n' grind through 30 years of pillow-talkin' funk.

But like Radiohead, he'll likely lose to sentimental favorites Steely Dan -- or possibly Paul Simon, another act whose latest album couldn't hold a candle to his greatest hits. I've been accused of withholding evidence in arguing my case that neither veteran nominee deserves to win. So here it is: Both Steely Dan and Simon offered nothing more than uninspired retreads of their former glories, plagued by lyrics that in Simon's case were trite and obvious, and in Dan's case were trying way too hard to creep us out with all that cousin lovin' sex talk. I've been showering for months and still feel dirty.

Simon, to his credit, has at least retained his voice. The vocals on the Steely Dan CD are awful. The opening song is out of key, but the singing throughout is ragged in a way that does not complement the ultra-slick arrangements. Play those vocals back to back with their earlier albums and tell me you don't hear the sound of someone having lost his voice.

They'll more than likely win, though, just to make up for the times they didn't. Then, in 30 or 40 years, an uninspired, past-its-prime release out of Radiohead or Beck will beat some great new artist. That's the way the Grammy fumbles.

Here's a look at how some other major categories could -- and should -- go Wednesday:

RECORD OF THE YEAR: They've got some solid choices here, most notably the classic soul revival of "I Try" by Macy Gray, my pick. Madonna's "Music" is another deserving contender. And the singles from U2 and Destiny's Child are pretty decent, too. I'd say the race comes down to Destiny's Child and Madonna, with "Say My Name" by Destiny's Child the biggest hit and likely winner -- unless, of course, Madonna hustles by on a wave of disco-fueled nostalgia and sentimental favoritism.

SONG OF THE YEAR: Again, some solid choices. And again, my pick is Macy Gray's "I Try." But the Grammy will probably go to country super-vixen Faith Hill and her breathy "Breathe." It was the biggest single of the year, you know. And that way, Grammy wouldn't have to feel so bad for snubbing country in the album category.

BEST NEW ARTIST: Shelby Lynne has had too many major-label albums out -- a decade's worth -- to be really considered new, although she is admittedly as "new" as Paul McCartney is "alternative." Jill Scott deserves it even more than Papa Roach, but Sisqo's "Thong Song" would continue Grammy's legacy of celebrating novelty acts at the expense of legitimate artists. The Grammy is almost assuredly his.

POP VOCAL ALBUM: This is tough to call. You've got 'N Sync (the biggest-selling album of the year), Madonna, Britney Spears and Steely Dan against Don Henley. And again, the Dan will more than likely get it, even though the vocals on "Two Against Nature" are horrible. The Grammy, though, belongs to Spears and her handlers for giving the world a disposable classic for if not the ages then at least the age.

ROCK ALBUM: First off, Matchbox Twenty, No Doubt and Bon Jovi do not rock (at least not anymore, Bon Jovi fans). But that won't keep the Grammy out of Matchbox Twenty's clutches. After all, singer Rob Thomas helped Santana win those Grammys last year. The award should go to "There Is Nothing Left to Lose" (except a Grammy) by the strangely underrated Foo Fighters.

ALTERNATIVE MUSIC ALBUM: Paul McCartney????!!! Dude was in the biggest band of all time. What exactly is he offering the world an alternative to? He is the mainstream. This is Grammy's chance to toss a bone to Radiohead or Beck, so look for either one to win. The Beck is fun, but the Grammy belongs to the brainiest band to top the charts in years -- unless you count McCartney's band, the Beatles.

R&B ALBUM: D'Angelo deserves to win the Album of the Year, but wasn't even nominated. This is Grammy's chance to try and make some reparations not only to D'Angelo but also to music in general. And that's exactly what they'll do.

RAP ALBUM: None of last year's most inspired hip-hop albums made the cut. And if they had, they'd only lose to Eminem, the clown prince of hate and intolerance. Who should get it then? No other nominee is half as hateful, but no other nominee is half as good. I'd leave the ballot blank on this one.

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