Politics & Policy

Album of The Year

The Rising should have won "album of the year."

Newcomer Norah Jones upsets Bruce Springsteen at the Grammy Awards. In the eternal words of Elvis Costello, “I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused.”

Norah Jones beating “The Boss” isn’t as bad as Hillary Clinton or Milli Vanilli winning Grammys, but The Rising should have won Album of the Year. I thought it would. It deserved to. I also thought the voters would have taken the opportunity to correct a mistake they made 18 years ago when Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down was recognized as Best Album over Springsteen’s Born in the USA.

Some of the 9/11 images The Rising conjures are obvious, but others are evocative snapshots of ordinary people struggling with the events of extraordinary times. Reunited with the E Street Band, Springsteen resurrects an old energy. It doesn’t just tries to sound “important.” It is challenging.

Jones has an excellent voice. Her singing is superior and Come Away With Me is technically proficient. She probably deserved to win in nearly every category she was nominated in, though I think Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning” would have been a worthy Song of the Year winner. But, will Jones’s be a classic?

I don’t think so. Tony Bennett says that he loved the fact that the Jones won: “It’s great that young artists are starting to recognize tradition. Bennett, of course, won for a similar album a few years back (Unplugged). The industry knows there is a niche for “tradition-oriented” music (i.e. last year Oh, Brother Where Art Thou won over U2′s All That You Can’t Leave Behind) and works to exploit it. This is the perfect market for a Norah Jones.

There may also be an identity politics issue at work. The industry may have a problem with “message” music by men? Over the space of ten years, only two albums by male singer-songwriters have been recognized as album of the year.

Selecting Norah Jones over Bruce Springsteen makes a lot of contemporary political sense. Jones seems to have few political opinions to espouse. Springsteen, for all his working man themes, is pretty much a liberal. He might have said something at the podium.

But, should the music be allowed to “do the talking?” Should artists be recognized for creating honest songs that speak to a certain time? Good songwriters can speak to the times in interesting and entertaining ways. One doesn’t have to accept the politics of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Ohio” to recognize that it’s good writing. Neil Young, who wrote it, also crafted the much different “Let’s Roll” last year in the wake of 9/11. It’s not one of his best songs, but it demonstrates that he has an ear for speaking to what is going on in the world at a certain time.

This is the second year in a row that the Grammys have sent a message that “Chicks with Pianos” beat “Dudes with Guitars.” Last year, Alicia Keys was in the keyboard-driven melodic-pop niche that Norah Jones currently occupies. Keys won five awards — though not album of the year.

Keys and Jones are clearly producing the music that the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences wants to recognize post-9/11. Perhaps more personal and “timeless” melodic product is the wave of the future. Perhaps there is a thought that the average listener doesn’t want to be stimulated lyrically as well as musically.

I admit my bias towards songs and albums that have something to say lyrically as well as musically. Based on the last couple of years (as far as recognizing outstanding albums), that’s not the direction NARAS is going on. Whether that’s good in the long run for the music industry is open to question. Regardless, Bruce Springsteen has nothing to apologize for.

— Robert A. George is an editorial writer for the New York Post who has done time as a professional DJ (and amateur comedian).

Norah Jones bombed and strafed her Grammy competition and some people aren’t happy about it, especially fans of Bruce Springsteen, who believed Bruce was due the Album of the Year award for The Rising. Norah, the lovely love child of sitar great Ravi Shankar, has since been denounced by this simpering breed as “banal” and “inoffensive.” We shall not take their complaints seriously. Their attempt to shield the reputation of the tottering Boss was torn to shreds in a blaze of Grammy Gold. It’s crying time again, and we all know how that is.

Discerning listeners were pleased that Norah whipped Bruce, though it did come as a surprise. Bruce is a true legend. But the judges knew that while Bruce is still a good performer his muse headed for Club Med years ago. They also knew that Norah whipped him in the marketplace despite the fact that Norah was initially ignored by the hit-making machine while Bruce’s lesser disk was welcomed with uncritical enthusiasm.

Tony Bennett praised Norah’s signature ballad, “Don’t Know Why” as “timeless,” and one suspects it will be played long after everything from “The Rising” has been forgotten, revived, and forgotten again. Writing a memorable melody is the most difficult task for the songwriter, and while Norah didn’t write the Big Hit she is a good songwriter and decent pianist. The chord progressions are not blazingly difficult but are more sophisticated than a lot of the pop and rock bangers could probably manage, at least without lots of instruction. Her bedroom voice reminds us that singing sexy is much more sexual than singing outright sex songs.

Critics also complain that Norah won because the Grammy judges are older than the post-adolescents that glom to Michelle Branch and her ilk, who provided the other competition. “Come Away With Me” did establish itself initially with an older audience before it was finally allowed on MTV and major radio. But so what? This only reminds us that among the benefits of getting older are gains in perspective, discernment, and possibly refinement. Then you die. But you don’t die so dumb.

Norah is only 23 but her influences run deep, and one hope there are more good albums ahead. Let’s hope she doesn’t get dragged into the movies. It could happen. Norah is a true babe, though she doesn’t use T&A to sell herself, as opposed to the lead blonde in No Doubt. Then there was former country singer Faith Hill, who is an elegant beauty but whose crotch-high dress brought to mind the oldest profession and whose screeching brought to mind a burning cat. Faith’s not the first southern girl to go astray in NYC, but she sure was a pathetic sight.

Norah, who hails from Texas, rode in on her talent and rode off with a bag full of gold. And while she looked a bit spooked during her performance, the overall ambiance was perfect: no pyrotechnics, only candles — with no casualties reported except for the hopes in the Springsteen camp. Like the song goes, what are hopes for, if not to be dashed?

Dave Shiflett is a member of the White House Writers Group and coauthor of Christianity on Trial. A CD of his songs is available very cheap at www.cdbaby.com/cd/floorcreak.



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