Redemption and uplifting triumph. Those longtime themes of U2's music also applied to the veteran Irish band's career trajectory as its "comeback" album earned a field-leading eight nominations for the 44th Grammy Awards, including album, song and record of the year.
U2's "All That You Can't Leave Behind" vyed in the best-album category with collections from Bob Dylan, Atlanta rap duo OutKast, R&B singer-songwriter India.Arie and the soundtrack to "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" The U2 single "Walk On," meanwhile, competed in the record-of-the-year category, while "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of" was nominated for song of the year.
While U2 is one of the most famous bands in the world, the second-highest number of nominations went to a young newcomer, India.Arie, whose infectious "Video" was nominated for song and record of the year (the former recognizes songwriting, the latter honors the best single or album track of the year). The Atlanta singer's disc "Acoustic Soul" was nominated for best album, one of her seven nominations.
"It means a lot, more than I can say," a jubilant Arie said after learning about the nominations. "It took me two years to record this album, two years of struggle, 365 days of struggle multiplied by two. A lot of those days I was just depressed and thinking, 'Maybe I should just be a songwriter.'"
It was, it turns out, a good year to be a singer-songwriter. Unlike recent Grammy seasons when mega-selling pop acts such as Britney Spears, 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys were nominated in top categories, this year the top fields were dominated by artists who write their own songs and play instruments. They range from Dylan, the most celebrated songwriter of the rock era, to best-new-artist nominee Nelly Furtado, a young Canadian who melds hip-hop beats, Brazilian rhythms and modern rock into a buoyant hybrid.
And as usual, it was a good year to be Pierre Boulez. The celebrated modernist conductor and composer got six nominations, raising his lifetime total to 56. He is fourth all-time among Grammy winners, and with a good showing this year, could close the gap considerably on late Georg Solti, the leader with 31 of the gramophone trophies.
Also vying in the record- and song-of-the-year categories was "Drops of Jupiter," the hit by Train, the earthy, melodic pop-rock group that began seven years ago as a coffeehouse act in San Francisco.
Joining Boulez with six nominations this year: country singer Alison Krauss, R&B singer Brian McKnight and rap duo OutKast.
The nominations for the quirky and acclaimed OutKast continued the trend of acknowledging hip-hop and rap after years of ignoring the genres.
While OutKast may be off the radar of casual pop fans, the duo, Dre and Big Boi, are heralded in rap circles as a clever and innovative force in the "Dirty South" movement, a vibrant corner of the hip-hop landscape. Among their nominations were "Stankonia" for best album and the hit "Ms. Jackson" for best record.
OutKast is only the fourth hip-hop act to be nominated in the album field, joining the Fugees in 1996, Lauryn Hill in 1999 and Eminem, who created a firestorm of controversy with his nod last year.
If last year's Grammys will be remembered for the debate over the artistic weight of Eminem's music, this year's show, broadcast globally on Feb. 27 from Staples Center, may include a celebration of U2.
It was 25 years ago that a group of Dublin high school students formed a band that would become U2, and 14 years ago that their album "The Joshua Tree" won the Grammy for best album and took its place as one of the seminal records of recent decades. Since then, though, albums such as "Zooropa" and "Pop" have been perceived by many as uncertain musical steps. It was also in question whether the band's guitar rock and earnest lyrics fit into the era of hip-hop and rap-rock.
Those doubts seem moot with the 3.2 million copies sold of "All That You Can't Leave Behind" in the United States alone, and the band's 2001 concert tour, which trails only the Rolling Stones' 1994 swing as the highest-grossing tour in North American history. To many ears, the band's music also took on more resonance after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and U2 responded by setting up a screen to scroll the names of the victims during their concerts.
"It was almost a case of a band mediating history every night," U2 manager Paul McGuinness said. "I don't think there's a lot of other bands that could have done that and been applauded for it."
McGuinness said he tracked down each of the band's members -- singer Bono, guitarist the Edge, drummer Larry Mullen Jr. and bassist Adam Clayton -- in four countries to share the news of the nominations. "Everyone was extremely excited," the manager said. "Believe me, nobody in U2 is blasé about this type of honor. This past year was U2's greatest year, and this only adds to that."
It was also the greatest year for young singer and pianist Alicia Keys, whose debut album, "Songs in A Minor," hit No. 1 on the U.S. charts and earned rave reviews. She finished with six nominations and, creating an intriguing match-up, competed with Arie in each of those categories. Both are among a wave of thriving artists drawing on old-school soul, including Hill, Jill Scott, Angie Stone, Erykah Badu, Maxwell and D'Angelo.
Arie had an edge in her voice on Jan. 4 when she said, "No, I'm not surprised" when asked whether it was unexpected for her to get a best-album nomination rather than the more publicized Keys. But then she added that she was proud to be among a movement of artists offering a humanistic sound. "It's a great feeling because it means that people are looking for more in their music, something real and something moving. The world needs that now."
Arie and Keys were also nominated for best new artist. Others in that prestigious category: David Gray, the British singer-songwriter whose acoustic hit "Babylon" put him in this field, although he has been releasing albums for seven years; Furtado, the Canadian singer-songwriter; and Linkin Park, the hard-edged rap-rock quintet that had the best-selling album of 2001, "Hybrid Theory."
Two of the best-album nominees, Dylan's "Love and Theft" and the "O Brother" soundtrack, draw on the heritage of folk, bluegrass and country music. For Dylan, "Love and Theft" is his 43rd album and the first since "Time Out of Mind," which won the 1997 Grammy for best album. The collection became the most critically acclaimed disc of 2001 with its survey of blues and country styles. "O Brother," meanwhile, is a celebration of roots music keyed to the eccentric Coen brothers film about a trio of 1930s Mississippi convicts. The soundtrack includes Ralph Stanley, Emmylou Harris and Alison Krauss.
T Bone Burnett, producer of the "O Brother" soundtrack, said he has marveled at the album's commercial success, the launching of a tie-in concert tour and the fact that music stores are responding to newfound customer interest by creating whole sections of "traditional American music." The audience was primed, Burnett said, by the pop leanings of today's mainstream country music.
"I thought it had a good chance of reaching people because it was a wide-open shot. What I mean is, so much of country music today has abandoned itself," Burnett said. "It has so little 'country' left about it I thought we had a chance to reach the mainstream with it. Anyone I mentioned it to, though, just rolled their eyes."
Although the Grammys keep their categories narrow, this year's classical music nominations were more diverse than ever. The best choral recordings included Bach's "St. Matthew Passion" and a new "Passion After St. Mark" by Osvaldo Golijov that is influenced by Cuban and Brazilian music.
Moreover, classical composers can be sighted in nonclassical categories as well, what with Tan Dun's score to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" receiving a best soundtrack nomination and a version of a Debussy piano piece arranged by Béla Fleck and Edgar Meyer winding up in the best-instrumental-arrangement category.
The eligibility period for the 44th Grammy Awards ran from Oct. 1, 2000, through Sept. 30, 2001. This year there were 99 categories with 502 nominees.
Award winners are decided by the 12,000 voting members of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences. Those voters also select nominees, but a blue-ribbon committee selects the final five nominees in top categories from the general membership's list of top 20 vote-getters.
Los Angeles Times music critic Mark Swed contributed to this story.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times