(For a complete list of 53rd GRAMMY Award nominees, click here.)
The category may only be turning 53 years old, but that's old enough to be a grandfather, and Album Of The Year is the GRAMMY Awards' granddaddy of them all.
The announcement of the winner of arguably the most prestigious GRAMMY will serve as a perfect exclamation point to the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards. The class of 2010 represents a wide-ranging array of styles, textures, instrumentation, and thematic brilliance. So which grand collection of songs will grab the gold?
Arcade Fire's The Suburbs serves as a perfect example of the appeal and influence of indie rock. Eminem's Recovery represents a forceful return to the limelight for Slim Shady, who has regained every bit of his innovative hip-hop edge. Lady Antebellum's sterling Need You Now is a gem of contemporary country, pitch-perfect in pacing, songwriting and delivery and a huge follow-up to their remarkable debut. If you're looking for the dance-pop monster of this quintessential quintet, look no further than The Fame Monster, which takes Lady Gaga's growing icon status and ups it to 11. And then there is Katy Perry's Teenage Dream, a brilliantly conceived 2010 update on the classic summer album performed by one of pop's most engaging and artful new provocateurs.
Montreal-based Arcade Fire has skyrocketed to the top of critics' lists since their 2004 debut Funeral, and their third release, The Suburbs, captures them at their mature musical peak. Woven throughout this 16-track tapestry of subdivision-inspired imagery are typical Arcade Fire anthems — "City With No Children," "We Used To Wait" and "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" — and good-things-come-to-those-who-wait ballads such as "Suburban War" and "Wasted Hours." Produced by the band and Markus Dravs, The Suburbs appropriately features every bit of the sprawl and mixture of stress and solitude that its title suggests.
With Recovery, the rapper born Marshall Mathers is getting older, wiser, and better and better at his craft. Armed with a cadre of GRAMMY-winning collaborators (Lil Wayne, Pink and Rihanna are featured) and producers including Alex Da Kid, GRAMMY winner Dr. Dre, Chin-Quee, and DJ Khalil, among others, Eminem scorches once again through a rollicking genre-bender that sends up metal ("Won't Back Down" with Pink), pokes politically incorrect fun ("W.T.P."), simply slams ("Not Afraid"), and bottles relationship drama (the Record and Song Of The Year-nominated "Love The Way You Lie" featuring Rihanna).
Lady Antebellum served notice with two wins at last year's GRAMMY Awards that they were a force to be reckoned with. Need You Now not only meets that benchmark, it pushes beyond it. Vocalists Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott's harmonies sound as good as ever on the monster-smash title track, and Dave Haywood's background vocals and multi-instrumental prowess shine through all over the album (check the infectious "American Honey" and rocking "Stars Tonight"). And with contributions by co-producer Paul Worley and the selection of ace Music City songwriters, this is a can't-miss nugget of 2010.
The other Lady in this category, the mysterious one known as Gaga, is defining her world, her music, her success, and her legacy in her own terms. Whether her fame becomes a monster or not, there's no doubt that The Fame Monster is adding to the mystical magic she seems to create with every single, every outfit, every statement, and every next move. Just one spin through this hit-laden set produces immediate addiction, from the unforgettable "Bad Romance" and the bouncing "Alejandro" to the hilarious and hellacious "Telephone," featuring last year's big GRAMMY winner, Beyoncé. Lady Gaga may flaunt image, but this album proves she's all about substance, too.
With Teenage Dream, the effervescent Perry returns, taking the notoriety from her hit "I Kissed A Girl" and blowing it up even bigger. "California Gurls" featuring Snoop Dogg was the song of summer 2010, and there's plenty more irreverent fun and moments of melodic mastery to be had, including "E.T.," the title track, "Hummingbird Heartbeat," and the explosive "Firework." Backed by producers including Ammo, Dr. Luke, Max Martin, Stargate, and Christopher "Tricky" Stewart, Teenage Dream is a pop hit-maker's dream and a sure sign that Perry's career is in full, buxom bloom.
Who will win the Album Of The Year statue? Tune in to the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards live from Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS. For updates and breaking news, please visit The Recording Academy's social networks on Twitter and Facebook.
(Matt Sycamore is a Pacific Northwest-based freelance music writer.)