Probably the biggest WTF moment of the Grammy Nominations Telecast the inclusion of Sara Bareilles here caught pretty much everyone off guard. I could have seen her accidental hit Brave making a sneaky appearance in the Record or Song categories, but having not heard very much chatter on the quality of the album I was doubtful of inclusion here. The Blessed Unrest isn’t a bad album, in fact it’s probably one of the better female pop records of the last few years, but on first listen it just didn’t sound like an ‘Album of the Year’. Going in I think I was expecting something along the lines of Katy Perry’s latest album, perhaps given how similar Brave is to Perry’s Roar, and the comparisons across the remainder of the album are obvious. That opening track is a monster of a song, setting the standard vocally for the rest of the record and for the most part Bareilles delivers. Tracks like Eden and I Choose You are exactly the sort of records you’d expect from an artist like this right now, but somehow Bareilles manages to retain her identity throughout. The more interesting turns that The Blessed Unrest takes, like the earthy brooding Sattelite Call are probably the tracks that resonated with Grammy voters, but for the most part little has changed for Sara since her first big hit Love Song. Depsite being a strong album I think Sara Bereillas will have to be satisfied with just the surprise nomination. Her chances against albums of the calibre of those below are small, especially as I imagine the voters will opt for the other female Pop act in the running; Taylor is the much safer choice.
Random Access Memories was guarenteed a nomination for Album of the Year in 2013, a huge ‘event’ album that performed well both with critics and with sales. It’s quite a surprise to realise that Daft Punk have never seen a nomination in one of the big four categories before, this year appearing here as well as in Record of the Year for the monumental hit Get Lucky. Back in May when the album was first released I wasn’t the only person who took to Twitter to ‘complain’ about being disappointed with Random Access Memories. Get Lucky is about as perfect as a disco track can get, but even here the album version is extended just enough to lose some steam halfway through. As far as the rest of the album goes it’s a mixed bag, the 70 minute run time may be chock full of inventive moments but as a whole it often feels quite boring. Standout track Giorgo by Morodor is a unique retelling of the history of disco clashed with some of the freshest sounds on the album, but it also happens to be the longest track here, at just over 9 minutes. On the other hand tracks like Doing It Right and Lose Yourself To Dance seem to rely on 30 seconds of a catchy song repeated for 5 minutes, a trick that Daft Punk weren’t the only ones guilty of in 2013 (I’m talking to you Timberlake…). It’s a huge album, but in some ways the scale of Random Access Memories swamps the great music lying within; the listening experience is tiring rather than exciting. All of my opinions aside, I think that Daft Punk have a very strong chance of picking up the award on the night. The last ‘dance’ record to win AOTY was the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack way back in 1979, the chances of a throwback disco record like this breaking the trend are immensly high. With a huge worlwide presence and a massive hit single, this could be Daft Punk’s year at the Grammys.
Critically speaking none of the albums on this list come close to matching the debut release from Kendrick Lamar, the most exciting new Hip-Hop act to emerge since Drake. Much has been spoken about Kendrick having the best flow of any rapper right now and it’s hard to argue with that when you listen to Good Kid M.A.A.D. City. Poetic Justice‘s soul vibes recall early Kanye, the Drake assisted track samples Janet Jackson but much like the rest of the album it’s all about Kendrick. Incredible moments appear so frequently that writing a few lines here would be an injustice to just how incredible Good Kid M.A.A.D City is. Every track tells a detailed, intricate and well executed story. It’s the HBO miniseries of music; unflinching and impossibly well realised. The duo of title tracks are a highlight, it’s like everyone who Kendrick has brought on board knew how important this album would be, producers like Pharell and Hit-Boy bring their A game on Good Kid and Backseat Freestyle respectively. It’s a genre defining album that manages to traverse the fine line between commercial and critical success effortlessly. Swimming Pools (Drank) is a pulsating slow jam that unexpectadly explodes into the biggest hook on the album. You get lost in the sort of catchy hooks you’d expect on the latest album from an RnB star, but then suddenly Kendrick flips things and delivers an intense, thrilling and technically impeccable verse. The comparisons to Eminem are fully deserved, in fact as the strongest debut Hip-Hop record since The College Dropout Kendrick may well be the first rapper in contention of taking Eminem’s crown. To anyone who doesn’t quite understand what this means, with Good Kid M.A.A.D. City Kendrick Lamar became the best rapper currently recording. If that doesn’t make this worthy of Album of the Year I don’t know what does.
It’s strange to think that I went through the whole of 2013 without actually listening to the The Heist. You heard the three major hits Thrift Shop, Can’t Hold Us and Same Love everywhere last year but for some reason I never actually managed to give the rest of this album a go. On a a first listen it’s obvious to see why those three songs were pushed as the singles, by far the strongest hooks on The Heist. There’s flickers of the same comedic genius heard on Thrift Shop here and there, while other tracks contain the same impossibly speedy flow seen on Can’t Hold Us, but it never reaches the heights of those two tracks. White Walls and Wing$ are extensions of the storyteller narrative style seen on Same Love, but there’s a reason that Same Love is the early favourite for Song Of The Year. For a debut album, The Hesit showcases the talents of Macklemore extremely well, though the presence of Ryan Lewis on production is much less important than it should be. Often the tracks sound slightly cheap, it can sound more like a mixtape effort than a proper commercial debut album, for both good and bad reasons. The Heist is a good enough album to make a win in the Best New Artist category a sure thing, but their chances at picking up the award here are slim. Given the worldwide success they’ve had, it’s easy to understand how they made the cut for nominations, Fun. achieved the same nomination sweep last year, but a win isn’t really on the cards for The Heist.
The most obvious choice from this years selection of albums, Taylor Swift managed to become the youngest ever recipient of the Album of The Year prize back in 2010 with her Fearless album. She has a strong chance of pulling it off again with Red the album that saw her fully transform from country sweetheart to pop princess (for better or worse). Red is the album where I finally ‘got’ the appeal of Taylor Swift. Following the hate it so much that I loved it response I had to lead single We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together Taylor released a series of consistantly brilliant promo tracks. Of course the soon to be monster hit Knew You Were Trouble was a shock to the system, but it was tracks like State Of Grace and Red where the crossover Taylor came through that I started to get on board. Red especially became my favourite Taylor Swift song pretty quickly, about as perfect as a country crossover hit can be. That said it took one listen to the highlight of the album, the steadily building ballad All Too Well for me to finally understand the Taylor Swift that I’d heard so much about. ‘You call me up again just to break me like a promise, so casually cruel in the name of being honest’ is a genius bit of wordplay, this unique way of describing relationships is what defines Taylor Swift as an artist. I’ve described how surprised I’ve been that I’ve become such a big fan of Swift’s, especially given some of the comments I made around the time of the Kanye VMAs incident, but it’s all thanks to Red. As Grammy contenders go, Red is the safest choice for the award. A brilliant album regardless of its continued worldwide success, producing hit single after hit single, being the safe option may in fact be Taylor’s downfall this year. When she won the award for Fearless back in 2010, she was seen as a slight outsider compared to the more obvious winner of I Am…Sasha Fierce for Beyonce. Red is probably in a similar situation to Beyonce, and while I think it’s much more deserving of the trophy than Fearless was, I could see another album scooping the prize.
I enjoyed all 5 of the nominated albums this year, but for me there are two that really shouldn’t be in the running. I mentioned above that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are a shoe-in for Best New Artist, but The Heist really isn’t the sort of era defining album that this category should represent. The Blessed Unrest left me feeling the same way. I thought that Sara Bereillas had written a nice album, but is nice enough to warrent a nomination? I wish we could have seen albums such as Lorde’s Pure Heroine or Kanye’s Yeezus make the cut instead. That said, I think the battle for the trophy between Taylor, Kendrick and Daft Punk will be tough. Good Kid M.A.A.D. City is by far the most deserving album of the bunch, especially since a Hip-Hop album hasn’t won since OutKast way back in 2004. I’m worried that the heavy subject matter could be too much for some voters though, who may opt for the ‘cleaner’ Hip-Hop leanings of Macklemore instead. That leaves 2 albums in the running and while part of me thinks Taylor could pull off the double I think Daft Punk have the strongest chance. It’s a divisive album for sure, but that’s surely part of the appeal, an event album that managed to define the last 12 months even if it wasn’t the biggest selling or highest reviewed. It’s my least favourite of the top 3, but something tells me that Random Access Memories will be the winner of Album Of The Year come Sunday night.
Most likely to win
1) Daft Punk – Random Access Memories2) Taylor Swift – Red
3) Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid M.A.A.D. City
4) Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist
5) Sara Bareilles – The Blessed Unrest
1) Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid M.A.A.D. City
2) Taylor Swift – Red
3) Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
4) Sara Bareilles – The Blessed Unrest
5) Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist