Tehee: Grammy nominations show lack of relevancy in rock music

FresnoDecember 11, 2013 

From left, John Paul Jones, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page appear at a media screening in September 2012 ahead of the worldwide release of the film of Led Zeppelin's 2007 Celebration Day concert.


Here's something I shouldn't admit: I don't care much for the Grammys.

The annual music awards, handed out by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, obviously have some cachet. There's a reason the awards show is billed as "the biggest night in music."

As a music fan, I never saw the relevance.

Still, nominations for the 56th annual awards were announced last week, and they offer a telling glimpse into the current state of the industry, especially in the rock and metal categories.

The Grammys have never done well representing the hard-rock genres. There's wasn't even a category for such until 1989, when they famously awarded the metal album of the year to the flute-fronted English band Jethro Tull.

It beat out Metallica's "...And Justice of All."

But many critics see this year's crop of bands — which includes Black Sabbath, Queens of the Stone Age and Led Zeppelin — as a sign of the times, proof that rock isn't dead.

Maybe not, but it could use some new blood. It's as if the awards have frozen time.

In the category of best metal performance, for example, there's Anthrax, a New York thrash metal band formed in 1981. It's nominated for a cover of "T.N.T.," an AC/DC song that was originally released in 1975.

Then there's Black Sabbath, which pioneered the genre (and has been playing it for close to 50 years). It's nominated for "13," the band's 19th studio album.

Even the Danish band Volbeat — the most "contemporary" of the set — has been around for more than a decade.

The best rock album category is fairly worse.

It includes Sabbath, along with David Bowie, Neil Young with Crazy Horse and Led Zeppelin, the latter of which hasn't released new material since 1982. It's nominated for "Celebration Day," a live set recorded in 2007 at a reunion concert at London's O2 Arena. The song "Kashmir" was also nominated in the best rock performance category.

This is not to say these bands aren't relevant.

Black Sabbath's "13" was a phenomenon. It was a critical — if unexpected — success and the group's best-selling album to date. It was No. 1 on the Billboard 200 charts. Reviews of the band's current tour prove that Sabbath can still hold its own.

And even a partially reunited Led Zeppelin (I say partially because one of the members is dead) is probably better than most (if not many) current rock bands.

But one wonders about the state of rock and metal music if its most viable acts — as designated by the Grammys — are also its oldest.

If this is indeed the best of current stock, there's no future in it.

Of course, we know that's not true.

There is a wealth of new music being made by young, energetic bands who are pushing the boundaries of the field. They're just not recognized by the Grammys. And the Grammys stand as reflection of the recording industry that is afraid to grow and groom new artists.

If it continues as such, it will find itself less relevant with fans.

The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6479, jtehee@fresnobee.com or @joshuatehee on Twitter and Instagram. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.

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