The set-up sounds like a terrible joke: A sensitive street fighter, some banjo-loving Brit folkies, three metrosexual popsters, two modern blues crate-diggers and, well, whatever Jack White is walk into a bar…
And with the exception of White, who was nominated in 2004 for the White Stripes album Elephant, all are newbies to the category, which is dominated by men this year. How did they get into this exclusive man cave? Let’s take a look:
Mumford Babel To The Top
After making a huge splash in 2011 as part of an ensemble that backed Bob Dylan at the Grammys, the English neo-folkies saw post-Grammy sales of their 2010 debut, Sigh No More, shoot up almost 100 percent on its way to nearly 3 million albums sold. The follow-up, Babel, moved more than 530,000 copies in its first week and has sold nearly 1.7 million since September.
Oddsmakers have them as the favorite to take the top prize at 2/5, besting fellow rockers the Keys, who are at 5/2 and White, who is trailing the pack at 15/1.
Childhood acquaintances Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney didn’t start jamming together until the early 2000s. But ever since the duo clicked, they’ve been on a mad tear, releasing seven albums and racking up three Grammy wins and 11 nominations.
El Camino landed them their best chart position to date when it debuted at #2 on sales of 206,000 copies. Singles “Lonely Boy,” “Gold On the Ceiling” and “Little Black Submarines” have become among their signature songs in an already deep catalog of grimy modern blues classics.
All Fun., All The Time
It’s an understatement to say that pop rock trio Fun. are on a roll. Their second album, Some Nights, started out slow, but exploded into a supernova thanks to the inescapable single “We Are Young.” The tune made Billboard history as it became the first track to sell 300,000-plus downloads for seven straight weeks, with more than 3 million in sales to date.
The Jeff Bhasker-produced album’s mix of pop smarts, booming percussion and crackling choruses makes for a deep listen in a time of singles-driven artists. And no matter what happens on Sunday, the boys are, yes happy to be nominated and looking forward to just rocking the house during their performance.
“The only thing that’s going through my head right now is playing, and crushing ['We Are Young'], that’s the number one thing, especially on a show that’s so widely watched, and in a room where Jack White and Tom Waits are going to be sitting there … I mean, come on,” guitarist Jack Antonoff said. “We love rock music so much; we love everything that comes along with it, and that’s something we can’t be shy about.”
Frank Ocean’s Sweet Life
Ocean seems the odd man out in the category because of the ethereal, future R&B vibe of his major-label debut, Channel Orange. But manager Chris Clancy, who co-manages the Odd Future crew with wife Kelly, said they knew they had something special on their hands during sessions for the disc.
“It was pretty obvious that Frank was doing something honest and emotional,” said Clancy of the press-shy singer’s album, which mixes abstract, poetic lyrics with slow-burn, keyboard-heavy bedroom soul. “He’s not your average writer and I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. He has a way of letting you see things. He’s like a painter, you see what he writes.”
From the falsetto longing of nominated single “Thinkin’ Bout You” to the nearly 10-minute John Mayer-assisted “Pyramids,” Ocean makes no concessions on the disc, pursuing his unique muse down whatever corridor they lead him down.
While Kelly Clancy was on hand for the sessions and was “obsessed” with what Ocean was creating from day one, Chris said nobody really anticipated six Grammy nominations.
“It sounded like an album that would be considered, I mean it just does,” he said. “He obviously was doing something amazing.”
All Aboard Jack’s Bus
It’s hard to believe that Blunderbuss was Jack White’s solo debut after countless side projects and albums under the White Stripes banner. It was a long wait, but Jack didn’t disappoint.
The album announced itself with the slow burn acoustic rambler “Love Interruption,” barely slowed down for the distorted blues blitz “Sixteen Saltines” and went all Bo Diddley for the Little Willie John cover “I’m Shakin’.”
Considering the surface similarity to the Keys’ modern take on Delta blues, White might be a long shot for Album of the Year this time. But his legendary work ethic assures that this won’t be his last shot at the night’s biggest prize.