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HRC's Commentary on the Rock GRAMMY Nominations

December 5, 2009

The Rock field for the GRAMMY awards incorporates a wide variety of musicians, bands, styles, and tastes. As a fan of music on the more hard rock and metal end of the spectrum, it’s been interesting to ponder the elasticity of the rock genre as I tingled at the familiar names of some bands I read on the nominations list, and took a double take at others. What it comes down to is less about what rock is than what it isn’t: it’s not pop, it’s not dance, it’s not rap…..it’s the guitar driven songs that can be found on a variety of radio stations tuned into by a variety of people.

The nominees for Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance are a group of living legends, all bestowing their knowledge of the state of the world onto us. From Dylan’s gravely noir piece, to Fogerty’s reprisal of the southern fried weather warner, to Prince’s shredding groove rock, to Springsteen’s Americana whistle-while-you-work anthem, to Young’s down home parable; it’s hard for a contemporary solo rock artist to compete. The novelty of Dylan’s ‘Beyond Here Lies Nothin’‘ and the guitar work in Prince’s ‘Dreamer‘ make them the front runners here.

Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals nominees include Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood, Coldplay, Green Day, Kings Of Leon, and U2. While Green Day’s ‘21 Guns‘ and Kings of Leon’s ‘Use Somebody‘ seem to be the most rock sounding of the bunch, I would have loved to see more surprises in this category. Dead Weather and The Mars Volta are two that come to mind. Earlier this year, I was lucky to see Green Day in a small venue, and catch Dead Weather and The Mars Volta at the Outside Lands Festival.

A superhero, California, redemption, a sequel, and a sing along make up the themes that fueled this year’s Best Hard Rock Performance nominees. Alice in Chains‘ ‘Check My Brain‘ is the freshest sounding track of the bunch, which also includes AC/DC, Linkin Park, Metallica, and Nickelback. Alice in Chains has been resurrected after the death of lead singer Layne Staley in 2002, and have challenged many skeptics by retaining their signature sound with a new singer at the helm. They have never won a GRAMMY, but have been nominated several times over the years. I saw Alice in Chains and Metallica both play amazing sets within the past year.

Judas Priest. Slayer. Megadeth. Ministry. Lamb of God. While the sight of t-shirts brandishing the logos of any of these Best Metal Performance nominees would elicit metalheads to throw the horns, the two live tracks of Judas Priest and Ministry’s older material pale in comparison to the rest. While Slayer’s ‘Hate Worldwide‘ and Megadeth’s ‘Head Crusher‘ fit each band’s prototypical song structures, Lamb of God’s ‘Set to Fail‘ feels to be the most relevant track up for an award. However, many fans are mourning the absence of any track off of Mastodon’sCrack the Skye‘, one of the rare instances of both a critical darling and popular record for the metal genre this year. Read my write ups from the past year’s Lamb of God, Slayer, and Mastodon shows.

The Best Rock Album field is a clear demonstration of the diversity of the rock genre. AC/DC‘s stadium rock is up against GRAMMY favorites Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood‘s classic rock, Green Day‘s pop-punk rock, Dave Matthews‘ jam rock, and U2‘s pop rock. All albums nominated by these artists are very representative of their signature sounds. Despite AC/DC having the second best selling record of all time, they’ve never been awarded a GRAMMY. It’s time.

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