OK, so it's like shooting fish in a barrel. Not exactly challenging. Anyone can take a look at the list of Grammy nominations each year and find it full of holes. It is indeed a rare occurrence when the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences gets everything right. Heck, it's rare when it gets anything right. But when it does, we're inclined to get excited – sort of like when Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers manages to get the puck out of our own end without giving it away. Our expectations are low, so even something average stirs our enthusiasm.
Certainly, there are members of the academy who vote with a clean and clear conscience. That said, we should never forget that Milli Vanilli won the Best New Artist trophy back in 1990.
I find myself in the interesting position of receiving equal amounts of letters, emails and Facebook posts from folks who claim that there is absolutely no good music at all being made these days, and from those who claim that we should forget all about any artist over the age of 40 and fully embrace the genius of the present day. Both arguments have flaws. It cannot be reasonably argued that there is no good music being made these days – in fact, there is an almost embarrassing abundance of inventive stuff coming out on a weekly basis. At the same time, putting a “sell-by” date on musicians – the equivalent of putting the over-40 artist on a raft and pushing him or her out to sea – is simply foolish. Music is not fashion, after all; music is music.
The folks at the Grammys surely know this, but they are either powerless or unwilling to do anything much about it. So the middle road is chosen, and we find token awards passed out to folks who had the audacity to hang around and get old in public, while the juicy prizes go to the young and pretty people who have far less to say and far fewer tools with which to say it. There are exceptions, yes, but that's all they are – exceptions.
In the spirit of a favorite Radiohead lyric of mine – “When I am King, you will be first against the wall/With your opinion, which is of no consequence at all,” from the still-terrifying “Paranoid Android” – I've promoted myself to the head of the academy and concocted my own Faux-Grammy Awards. Just for kicks. (The real Grammys take place on Sunday, and you can find my thoughts on the actual list of nominees in that morning's Buffalo News.)
Best New Artist
Gary Clark Jr. – A fresh fusion of blues and R&B.
Tame Impala – Smart, strange, highly creative indie rock.
Foxy Shazam – Dripping with soul, even if it is faux-soul.
The XX – Freaky English indie-pop.
Foxygen – The new psychedelic rock.
Best Rock Album
Rush, “Clockwork Angels” – A revered band at the peak of its prowess.
Soundgarden, “King Animal” – A most welcome, heavy and inventive return.
Japandroids, “Celebration Rock” – Heavenly garage rock.
Neil Young & Crazy Horse, “Psychedelic Pill” – The wall of sound as only Young & the Horse can construct it.
Black Country Communion, “Afterglow” – At once classic and contemporary.
Best Album by a Curmudgeonly Genius Designed to Frighten the Children
Bob Dylan, “Tempest” – Pretty brilliant. Pretty twisted, too.
Best Hip-Hop Album with Sociopolitical Agenda
Dead Prez, “Information Age” – I like my rap to hold a mirror up to society as a whole.
Best Album Featuring an Old Guy teamed with a Hot New Guy
Dr. John, “Locked Down,” in collaboration with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys – Brilliant, plain and simple.
Best Guitar Solo
Alex Lifeson, “Headlong Flight,” (Rush) – A jaw-dropping, dynamic, epic improvisation.
Best Solo Album From A Dude With Nothing To Prove
Trey Anastasio, “Traveller” – Anastasio continues to push the jam-band envelope. He never phones it in.
Best Drum Sound
Jason Bonham (Led Zeppelin), “Celebration Day.”
Neil Peart (Rush), “Clockwork Angels.”
Matt Cameron (Soundgarden), “King Animal.”
Alex Van Halen (Van Halen), “A Different Kind of Truth.”
Neal “Fro” Evans (Dopapod), “Redivider.”
Best Album by an Awesomely Talented Musician No One in the U.S. Has Heard Of
Richard Hawley, “Standing At the Sky's Edge” – It's time we figured out what they've known in the UK for a decade.
Best Album Detailing the Wall Street Scam
Bruce Springsteen, “Wrecking Ball” – “We Take Care of Our Own,” indeed.
Best Song to Listen To While Your 401(k) Tanks
Bruce Springsteen, “Easy Money” – “There's nothin' to it, Mister/You won't hear a sound/When your whole world comes tumbling down/And all them Fat Cats, they just think it's funny/I'm goin' on the town tonight, looking for easy money.” Yup. Everything that rises must converge.
Best Metal Album
The Sword, “Apocryphon” – These boys learned their “stoner-rock” lessons well.
Poser Lifetime Achievement Award
Jon Bon Jovi – Being from New Jersey does not make you Bruce Springsteen. Sorry.
Best Progressive Rock Recording
Steven Wilson, “Get All You Deserve” – Profoundly moving and dazzlingly sophisticated.
Greatest Living Jazz Musician
Wayne Shorter – Just because he is.
Best New Year's Eve Live Podcast
Phish, Madison Square Garden – Why go out on New Year's Eve when these guys can bring the party right to your living room?
Greatest Scam Pulled Off by the Music Industry in 2012
Spotify – Great if you're a music fan. Not so great if you're trying to make a living as a musician.