Grammy week is upon us, and I couldn’t be less excited. I used to live for the Grammys during the early part of the year, just like I lived for the Oscars and the Golden Globes — even though the Grammys are traditionally even more artistically bankrupt than the Globes. Most likely anybody who stumbles across Popdose can name at least a dozen past Grammy travesties right off the top of your head, so I won’t go into them here. (OK, but just a few, and all from the glory years of 1988-89: Jethro Tull getting Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance; DJ Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince beating Public Enemy for the first Best Rap Performance trophy, and off camera at that; Milli Vanilli, of course.) But this year is special: It’s the first in memory that I couldn’t give a damn who wins any of the major categories, or indeed any award that’s likely to be handed out during the televised ceremony.
Sure, plenty of artists I like are nominated, but unless you’re rooting like mad for either an Amy Winehouse recovery speech or an Amy Winehouse train wreck — or, perhaps, both over the course of the evening — is there much of anything to root for at all? Are we supposed to hope the Foo Fighters win all the awards that the Chili Peppers didn’t win last year? Are we supposed to cheer for “Umbrella,” a terrific song that nonetheless doesn’t really seem like Song/Record of the Year material? Or are we supposed to hope Kanye West wins Album of the Year so he doesn’t once again pitch a fit over being shunned in the top categories? Zzzzzzzzzzâ€¦
And what’s up with that Album of the Year category, anyway? Herbie Hancock’s Joni Mitchell tribute? Really? And, yeah, Vince Gill made a virtuoso five-album set that showed off his multifaceted talents, but what impact did it have? Where’s Radiohead, or Arcade Fire, or the White Stripes? Where’s the Robert Plant/Alison Krauss album? Where’s Springsteen, for God’s sake? (He’s never won this category.) Where’s Daughtry?
All shunted off to lesser categories, of course. For years now, those categories have seen all the interesting action on Grammy night — yet most of them aren’t even handed out on TV, particularly now that the Grammy telecast has evolved into a concert with a couple trophies handed out along the way. (Here’s a fun drinking game: Take a shot every time you hear a performer introduced with the phrase “Already a Grammy winner tonight!” You’ll be under the table before Winehouse wins Best New Artist, guaranteed; of course, she’ll probably be down there with you.)
I certainly have some favorites among the “awarded earlier this evening” contenders — I hope Patty Griffin wins Best Contemporary Folk Album, and it’d be nice if Feist wins something ‘because she sure isn’t going to win Best New Artist, not that she even was a new artist last year). But the only category that I find truly intriguing is all the way down at Number 82 on your program — literally, it’s the 82nd category listed on Grammy.com.
It has the cumbersome title “Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media,” and the list of nominees is just as scattershot as you’d think. There are two soundtracks from filmed Broadway musicals, one from a non-musical movie that had lots of music anyway — and not one but two Beatles-related projects (one from a Cirque du Soleil stage show), which doubles the possibility that the Recording Academy will somehow make up for the ridiculous extent to which it ignored the Beatles 40 years ago.
And the nominees are:
Across the Universe — The pleasant but unremarkable soundtrack to a mediocre movie over which some small sub-section of the nation’s teenage girls apparently went ga-ga, mostly because of its male star, Jim Sturgess. As an album, Across the Universe‘s greatest distinction may be that it is far from the worst Beatles-covers film compilation of all time; it easily tops the Bee Gees-Peter Frampton Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band atrocity of 1978, and while I’m on the fence about this, I’d probably also give it the nod over the All This and World War II soundtrack from 1976. (Even today, one can almost hear Johnny Rotten and Joe Strummer vomiting as they scrape the record needle across the flaccid covers on that long-lost latter album.) Across the Universe does approach Sgt. Pepper’s-style overindulgence on a couple occasions: Eddie Izzard’s lugubrious take on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” and Bono’s not-bad, but ten-times-too-pompous version of “I Am the Walrus.”
Jim Sturgess – “Across the Universe”
Bono – “I Am the Walrus”
Dreamgirls â€“ Were it not for Jamie Foxx’s lousy performance and a truly heinous script, Dreamgirls might have been one of the greatest movie musicals since the end of that genre’s golden era (an end which coincided with Marnie Nixon’s voice-over work drying up, circa 1965). The soundtrack is suitably fab, even beyond Jennifer Hudson’s takeover of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” (Nell Carter, we hardly knew ye). I get a huge giggle over the dual homages to historic song-stealing: Pat Boone’s rape of the Little Richard oeuvre, as portrayed in “Cadillac Car,” and Beyonce’s disco-fication of J. Hud’s “One Night Only.”
Dreamgirls Cast – “Cadillac Car”
Beyonce – “One Night Only” (disco version)
Jennifer Hudson – “One Night Only”
Hairspray â€“ Were it not for John Travolta’s lousy performance…why did this man get a Globe nomination, and considerable critical praise, for de-gay-ifying one of John Waters’ greatest creations? Travolta never gave himself over to the drag-queen irony of Edna Turnblad, the way the glorious Divine and the wonderful Harvey Fierstein did; Travolta walked through the film as a Famous Actor in a Dress, sucking the subversiveness right out of the proceedings and leaving only a bunch of fat jokes. That said, Hairspray is still a hoot, with Nikki Blonsky singing her ass off on “Good Morning Baltimore,” Michelle Pfeiffer clacking her claws through “Miss Baltimore Crabs,” and a “You Can’t Stop the Beat” finale that out-Greases Grease. (Plus, Zac Efron’s in it, daddy! Can we go? Can we go?)
Nikki Blonsky – “Good Morning Baltimore”
Michelle Pfeiffer – “Miss Baltimore Crabs”
Hairspray cast – “You Can’t Stop the Beat”
Love â€“ This soundtrack to Cirque du Soleil’s Beatle-icious Vegas show is primarily producer Giles Martin’s achievement; if you listened to the hype at the time, he created (with help from Dad and the blessing of a couple famous old musicians) the first mainstream, legitimate pop/rock release to feature mashups of the kind that the happenin’ kids seem to go for these days. But while it was extraordinary to see the Beatles ride the zeitgeist one more time, 40 years after Sgt. Pepper, Love is a spotty album at best. The mashed-in bits of songs are almost exclusively used as window dressing, tacked onto the ends of remixed versions of the original classics — which is occasionally interesting, but not exactly The Grey Album. Interestingly, it’s George who makes out the best here — particularly interesting considering the way Paul bullied Let It Be…Naked into existence a couple years ago; George’s “Within You Without You/Tomorrow Never Knows” is a high point, as is the exquisite version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Paul does get his due on one of the better mashups, a Rubber Soul special of “Drive My Car”/”The Word”/”What You’re Doing.”
The Beatles – “Within You Without You”/”Tomorrow Never Knows”
The Beatles – “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”
The Beatles – “Drive My Car”/”The Word”/”What You’re Doing”
Once â€“ If you’re a faithful Jesus of Cool reader (and both of you know who you are) you know I’m completely in the tank for this film, these artists and this music. Despite the high-profile competition, this category may be the best opportunity for Once to come away with some hardware this awards season; shunned by the Golden Globes in favor of Across the Universe, and limited to one Best Original Song nod at the Oscars, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova may go away empty-handed here as well. However, they’ve left hundreds of thousands of moviegoers with very full hearts, thanks to John Carney’s quirky love story and Glen and Marketa’s quiet chemistry. Not to mention a soundtrack full of low-key yet deeply passionate songs like Glen’s “Falling Slowly” and “When Your Mind’s Made Up” and Marketa’s “If You Want Me.”
Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova – “Falling Slowly”
Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova – “When Your Mind’s Made Up”
Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova – “If You Want Me”
I don’t expect Once to win the Grammy, but I hope. This category isn’t perfect — I’d prefer to see Eddie Vedder’s music for Into the Wild here rather than the Across the Universe soundtrack — but neither of them likely would have factored into the vote anyway. Dreamgirls has to be the favorite, even though it’s a year old (Grammy eligibility dates suck as bad as everything else about the Grammys sucks), and if it doesn’t win Hairspray probably will. Regardless, the winner probably will receive about 1.5 seconds of screen time, listed among the scrolling pre-show award recipients as a disembodied voice pronounces, “Already a Grammy winner tonight!” Quick, take a shot! And salute the Grammys, in all their majesty and irrelevance.