Arcade Fire won Best Album of the year last night. But for which album?
Arcade Fire’s win for Best Album of the Year at the Grammys last night was a big victory for anyone still invested in the idea of bands—at least rock bands. Of all the nominees in the category for Best Album, there were only two for actual bands, and one of them, Lady Antebellum, is a country band, which is a whole different animal. Arcade Fire was the only group in the list of nominees for Best Album that represented the old-school tradition of rock (or rock-ish) music being created and recorded collaboratively, generating an alchemical whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. That human touch is partly what we’ve loved about rock bands from The Beatles to The Stones to Nirvana, to Radiohead. As great as an Eminem or Katy Perry or Lady Gaga album may be it’s an entirely different process, and it was nice to see a band—an increasingly endangered species at awards shows like these—take home the trophy.
But there’s also the question of accuracy. For starters there’s a taxonomic conflict—”The Suburbs” was nominated for “Best Alternative Music Album,” and “Album of the Year.” Since it counts as an “Alternative Music Album,” it doesn’t make any sense that it could win overall “Best Album of the Year” without also winning “Best Alternative Music Album.” But the album lost in that category to The Black Keys.
It’s all part of the incentive to hand out as many awards as possible, taxonomic accuracy be damned, that makes the show so silly. Nonetheless, the artists do seem to take it seriously. Arcade Fire tweeted a sincere-sounding “OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD. Thank you EVERYONE” after their win, and Kanye West seemed genuinely impressed, tweeting, “#Arcade fire!!!!!!!!!! There is hope!!! I feel like we all won when something like this happens! FUCKING AWESOME!”
And then there’s the question of which album, really, they won for. The Grammys seem to operate like the Oscars, doling out awards when it’s an artist’s “time,” almost more so than for the specific work in consideration. In 2005 Arcade Fire’s “Funeral” was nominated for “Best Alternative Music” album, which it lost to Wilco’s “A Ghost Is Born.” I know lots of people love Wilco, but I’m pretty sure “Funeral” has come to be renowned as one of the best records of the decade. Underscoring the mixed reviews for Arcade Fire’s Grammy performance, I don’t know anyone who would go on record as saying “The Suburbs” is a better record than “Funeral”—a conclusion you’d have to make judging by the Grammy accolades.
But hindsight is 20/20. Arcade Fire may have won the award in 2011 for continuing to fortify the institution of the super-successful alternative rock band over the last decade. And that’s fine by me. Today we learned that Radiohead’s new album will come out next week. Radiohead has been nominated a few times for “Best Alternative Music Album,” but has never won for “Album of the Year.” I say they take “Best Album” in 2012—they’re more overdue for the Grammy than Peter O’Toole is for an Oscar.