Five disparate discs will go head to head in the Best Rock Album category during Sunday’s 54th Grammy Awards (or, probably, during the pre-televised ceremony), which is a pretty apt way to sum up a year when the Decemberists topped the Billboard charts and the best-selling rock record — Mumford & Sons’ Sigh No More — was actually released in 2010. In short, 2011 didn’t make a whole lot of sense.
So we suppose it’s even more fitting that neither the Decemberists nor Mumford are actually nominated for Best Rock Album at this year’s Grammys. Instead, it’s the Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kings of Leon, Wilco and Jeff Beck who will duke it out for the golden gramophone — and really, each of them has a pretty-realistic shot at winning. They’ve all got Grammy trophies at home (KOL even took home one of the so-called “Big Four” awards — Record of the Year, for “Use Somebody” — in 2009), and through the years, they’ve each proven themselves as mainstays when the Recording Academy reveals its list of nominees.
All of which means that this year’s race is certain to be one of the most-tightly contested in years. Will hard-rock enthusiasts carry the Foos to victory? Can indie-leaning voters help Wilco take home the award? Will purists go all-in on Jeff Beck’s Les Paul tribute album? We won’t know for sure until the winner is announced Sunday. In the meantime, here’s a look at the five nominees for Best Rock Album:
Foo Fighters, Wasting Light: Born from humble beginnings (they recorded the disc straight to tape in Dave Grohl’s garage ), Wasting Light went on to accomplish great things, not only giving the Foos their first-ever #1 debut in the U.S., but revitalizing the band’s spirit, which they admitted had been worn down after years on the touring/recording treadmill. In the process, the Foos served notice that they’re still formidable two decades on, the rare band as capable of churning out snarling stompers as they are radio-friendly numbers. A win here would give the Foos four Best Rock Album Grammys, twice as many as their nearest competitors (Green Day, U2 and, uh, Sheryl Crow).
Jeff Beck, Rock ‘n’ Roll Party (Honoring Les Paul): Part tribute, part rollicking rock workout, Beck honors his idol, the late, great Les Paul, with this effervescent disc. Recorded live at New York’s Iridium Jazz Club — where Paul played a weekly slot until his death in August 2009 — on what would’ve been the guitar pioneer’s 95th birthday, it features guest appearances from Brian Setzer, Trombone Shorty and Gary U.S. Bonds and nearly as many memorable moments. Given all that (not to mention the sentimental nature of Grammy voters), this could be the dark-horse favorite to take it all.
Kings of Leon, Come Around Sundown: The follow-up to their breakout, Only By the Night, didn’t quite match the commercial successes of its predecessor, but that doesn’t mean it’s a dud. Instead, Sundown finds the brothers (and cousin) Followill coming to terms with their newfound fame, setting down roots and allowing their once bottled-up, garage-proofed rock to flower and flourish (think lap steel, Wurlitzers and horns). It’s a solid effort, though it remains to be seen if the Kings can match their post-Night Grammy haul, when they took home three awards (including the aforementioned Record of the Year) based on the strength of the album.
Red Hot Chili Peppers, I’m With You: After a two-year hiatus (and a five-year gap between albums), the Chili Peppers returned in 2011 with I’m With You, a record of dizzying highs (not all of them drug-related) and disorienting lows. A spirited album that’s most certainly haunted by spirits of past regrets and departed friends, much like the Foo’s Wasting Light, the Peppers credit I’m With You — the first to feature guitarist Josh Klinghoffer — with revitalizing their band — which, given both the length and low periods of their amazing career, is definitely saying something.
Wilco, The Whole Love: After sounding slightly bored (to some) on 2009′s Wilco (The Album), Jeff Tweedy and Co. returned last year with The Whole Love, an album that sees the band rediscovering their adventurous Yankee Hotel Foxtrot/A Ghost is Born period. At turns voluminous, foreboding, inscrutable and drop-dead gorgeous, it not only captures Wilco at their best, but also at a bit of a career crossroads. Regardless of wherever they go from here, we’ll definitely be listening.
Chaos! Profanity! Wardrobe malfunctions! Don’t miss Sway and James Montgomery live from the Grammys red carpet this Sunday, February 12, for a full three hours of mayhem, starting at 5 p.m. ET on MTV.com. And the fun doesn’t end Sunday: MTV News has you covered until the Grammy hangover wears off!