Redemption and uplifting triumph. Those longtime themes of U2's music also applied on Friday 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" will vie 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, competes in the record of the year category, while "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of" is 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 Friday. "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 ranged 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 is "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 continue 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 was "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, to be broadcast globally on Feb. 27 from Staples Center, may shape up to be 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 U.S. 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 Friday. "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 blase about this type of honor. This past year was U2's greatest year, and this only adds to that."