This Beck album that won album of the year is not album of the year material. “
–          Jon 9to5 (dot cc)

So Beck won Album of the Year last Sunday at the Grammys. Jon decided to give the album a listen and came up with the above observation. There’s the whole problem that the Grammys are nominated by and voted on by the industry. So it’s easy to accuse (and almost certainly guilty of) favoritism, nepotism, and probably a lot of other isms where you give your friends, families and people who give you money preferential treatment. Anyhow, I decided to listen to all the albums that were nominated and find out whether or not I agreed with the decision to give it to Beck. We won’t talk about the albums that might have been more deserving to be nominated.

The least respected award there is.

The least respected award there is.

Beyoncé_-_Beyoncé.svgBeyoncé – BEYONCÉ

This album starts off with Beyoncé (I’m guessing) talking about how she just wants to be happy. I mean, I guess we’re supposed to relate to that? Right. The second track “Haunted” has her repeating “working 9 to 5 just to stay alive.” She’s just like us you guys. Ok, musically I’m really not into this album. I will say that it is technically quite sound. I guess you can’t really argue that Jay-Z knows how to get the right people involved to produce a pop record. Everything about the production is highly polished and all of the beats and samples have an incredibly tight flow. Also, the list of collaborators is a mile long. I guess there’s the danger of it sounding over produced, a too many chefs situation, but that never really comes through. I mean, “Drunk in Love” is a song with 9 writers and 6 producers and features Jay-Z rapping (but not writing or producing).  It also features Beyoncé spending a weird amount of time rapping about surfing.  The music is definitely not for me, but I suppose that’s ok. I feel like if Beyoncé’s agent or whatever saw me on the metro they would look at me and immediately know that I was probably not in their target demo.  So yeah, with that in mind, this is a pretty solid album. If I was into “Alternative R&B – Pop” which is what Wikipedia calls this album, I think I would be pretty into it. This album is like the musical equivalent of Avatar, it’s not very good artistically (to me) and there’s not a lot of substance but it really is a technical marvel.

Ed Sheeran – x

X_coverEd Sheeran is a name that I’ve heard a lot but really I have no idea who he is. Like, listening to this album I’m extremely confident in having never heard a single song off it before. Maybe in a movie soundtrack or something? Ed Sheeran’s “sound” is basically like a guy with a guitar who will use his powers to melt the panties off of girls at a cottage weekend. All the girls will be like “hey Ed, play some guitar for us.” Then all the boys will be like “oh fuck, now Ed is going to make us feel inadequate creatively.” That’s what this music is. It’s music for making love by a fireplace in a soft focus filter. I don’t hate this music. It’s definitely got a place in my library (filed under F for “fireplace”). The thing is I don’t really understand why this particular album and not something like Ben Howard or Vance Joy got nominated. They sound very similar to me.  The weird part about this record is the strange left turn it suddenly takes at track 3 “Sing”, followed by “Don’t” and “Nina.” “Sing” and “Don’t” are two of the three singles off the album and they have funky back beats and seem to have nothing to do with the more stripped down acoustic sound set up by the first tracks, “Nina” less so, but still there. Then, at track 6 “Photograph” it goes back to acoustic. Another weird swerve comes along at Track 10 “The Man” where he starts rapping? I guess maybe that’s why he got the nom over those other artists, he’s versatile? Goddamnit Ed, stop being better than me at everything. The thing is, I prefer the acoustic guitar stuff over the beats/overproduction stuff. I would be more impressed if this was Sheeran’s first album but it’s his second. A little too all over the place but still a pretty good album.

Sam_Smith_In_the_Lonely_HourSam Smith – In The Lonely Hour

Prior to today, my only knowledge of Sam Smith was Taran Killiam’s impersonation of him on SNL and the fact that he apparently sang over a Tom Petty song and had to pay royalties. Let’s give this fellow a listen.  Oh my God. You guys. I’m only one track in and I want to bail. Help. Help me. Please. This is some grating bullshit. Piano jams and finger snaps and Sam floating in and out of this falsetto bullshit. What the hell am I listening to? No seriously. I don’t know if I will get all the way through this. I just listened to an entire Beyoncé album and Sam Smith is making me want to abandon ship after a single track. The first track is “Money on My Mind” by the way Sam Smith fans, if you want to get your hate on. Why would you choose this to kick off your album? Second track was wholly forgettable as well. Now we’re at the Tom Petty song and it being the first time I’ve ever actually listened to “Stay With Me” I can tell you that it’s not as blatantly ripped off as I thought it was going to be. I mean “I Won’t Back Down” is definitely there. It’s just not as flagrant as I thought it would be. Here’s a question, how does an album where one of the songs was legitimately ripped off from another artist end up being nominated as the Best Album? I mean, maybe give it to someone who didn’t steal a song? Another thing is that Sam Smith was involved in the writing of every one of his songs, but always with one other person. And it’s not always the same person. It’s just weird that he partnered with a different person for every track. Weird. Anyways, this album is garbage. I hate it. I’m not listening to the rest of it and you can’t make me. The fact that Smith walked away with a bunch of other little gramophones does not make this ok.

Pharrell Williams – G I R L

Pharrell_Williams_–_Girl_(album_cover)I have a soft spot for Pharrell. The fact that this is only his second full length studio album blows my mind for a guy who has been in the music scene for over two decades. I mean, he was with The Neptunes until 2004, but still. I guess he’s just so busy making Robin Thicke relevant for 10 minutes that he doesn’t always have time to focus on his own music? Ha ha! Anyways, this album is great. I have loved funk pretty much since I was a little kid and this whole album is basically disco-funk for modern times. I found myself head-bobbing for pretty much the entire album. Which can’t be a bad thing. I had even already put “Happy” on a mix that I made for vacation last Spring. Making it the only song from any of the albums nominated that I had not only heard but that I liked enough to put on a mix. So there’s that. I will deduct points for the fact that Skateboard P did some free PR for the word “bae” in the track “Come Get it Bae”.  I mean, that word doesn’t need your help Pharrell. Song is great though. I love me some hand claps. Even though I’m not 100% behind the idea of this being nominated for the “Best Album” honours I can honestly say that of all five nominees, this is the album that I am most likely to ever listen to again. It’s a lot of fun. I’m not sure if “fun” means you get to win an award or not (Death From Above 1979 and Mac Demarco were both fun and they didn’t even come close to a nomination).

Beck_Morning_PhaseBeck – Morning Phase

So we’re finally at the one that actually won. I just listened to a whole lot of music that I would otherwise not have and we’ve landed on Beck. Now, we all know who Beck is. He’s been in our lives since “Loser” in 1995 and even though he’s a Scientologist he makes pretty good music. I’m not sure if this is one of those things where they gave him the Grammy for Album of the Year because Odelay and Midnite Vultures were nominated but didn’t win, but Morning Phase is certainly not his best work. This whole album seems to be “mellow Beck” and if you know Beck then you know what I mean. The single off the album that got the most radio play was “Blue Moon” and honestly it’s pretty indicative of the whole album. In fact, a lot of the other tracks are even more mellow. This album is in no way bad. It’s just not great. This is sort of like when Helen Mirren won Best Actress for The Queen we all sort of knew that it wasn’t really for that movie, it was more to acknowledge that Helen Mirren is awesome and we were all weirded out that she hadn’t won Best Actress yet. But with Beck.

Consensus:

On our own very prestigious Year in Review episode of the 9to5 Entertainment System you may notice that none of these albums are even mentioned as the music that we were into. So to say that I agree with these nominations would be a lie. In their own way, four of these albums are all very good albums. I don’t know why Sam Smith is there. Was Beck the right choice? I don’t think so. Pharrell’s album is more fun and Beyoncé’s album is very much a marvel of production Am I saying that Beyoncé should have won instead of Beck? I don’t want to be on the record as saying that. Make your own choices. I don’t like that I might be partially agreeing with Kanye.

Keith does all sorts of things here on 9to5.cc, he works with the other founders on 9to5 (illustrated), co-hosts our two podcasts: The 9to5 Entertainment System and Go Plug Yourself and blogs here as The Perspicacious Geek.

Grammy Image from CIMA Music.ca
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