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Maybe 'Rising' Refers to Grammy Fever

Bruce Springsteen has a lock on album of the year, observers agree, with Eminem the only serious challenger right now

September 01, 2002|STEVE HOCHMAN

The emotions unleashed by the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington last year have launched Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising" on a direct course to the album of the year Grammy.

So say more than nearly two dozen music professionals informally surveyed, including Grammy voters and journalists who have spent years evaluating the habits of the voting membership of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.

Can anything even challenge Springsteen's album for the top award?

"At this point, it would almost take a change in the global political situation or something," says Alan Light, former editor in chief of Spin and Vibe magazines and author of a recent New Yorker essay about "The Rising." The album's lyrics are largely concerned with the feelings of shock, grief and resolve people experienced following the attacks.

So the Feb. 23 Grammy gala at New York's Madison Square Garden may have more the look of a coronation than a contest.

"I can't imagine how they'll build drama," says Craig Marks, editor of Blender magazine. "They'll have to do some salute to America, which by February may have a different spin. Who knows what will happen by then? The way drama might happen is if there's politics playing out on stage. Will Springsteen get up and say anything [political]? Will there be any George Bush criticism on stage? Will it be a platform for any political ideas to be expressed?"

Tom O'Neil, author of "The Grammys: The Ultimate Unofficial Guide to Music's Highest Honor," sees one legitimate challenger in Eminem's "The Eminem Show"--although he has no doubt Springsteen will prevail.

"Eminem, who was cheated once before, when the leading critics said he deserved to win, can't be downplayed and dismissed easily this time," O'Neil says. He's referring to the 2000 edition, when Steely Dan's "Two Against Nature" defeated the rapper's "The Marshall Mathers LP" amid much controversy about his perceived homophobia and misogyny.

Helping give Eminem momentum this round will be his high profile at last week's MTV Video Music Awards and the November release of his first major film, "8 Mile," a loosely autobiographical tale directed by Curtis Hanson ("L.A. Confidential").

But any sense that Eminem's time is overdue is trumped by Springsteen's having been overlooked for top Grammy honors in the past. He's been nominated only once for album of the year, with 1984's "Born in the U.S.A." losing to Lionel Richie's "Can't Slow Down." And against the emotional weight of "The Rising," Eminem seems a longshot.

The other three album of the year candidates? The consensus of the experts has singer Norah Jones' "Come Away With Me" (the favorite for the best new artist Grammy) and pop breakthrough artist Pink's "Missundaztood" as the best bets.

Among the other possibilities are the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "By the Way," No Doubt's "Rock Steady," Nelly's "Nellyville," Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," Moby's "18," Elvis Costello's "When We Were Cruel" and Beck's upcoming "Sea Change."

CRAIG DAVID DE-SQUEAKED: English neo-soul star Craig David isn't going as far as Britney Spears, who recently shed what was left of her Disney teen image by declaring publicly that she drinks, smokes and has had sex. But on "Slicker Than Your Average," the title song to the follow-up of his 2000 debut album "Born to Do It," he pointedly addresses the U.K. press' persistent focus on the trouble-free nature of his life.

"Now you're telling me about my imagery/How I'm squeaky clean whenever I'm on TV," David, 21, sings in the track. "Too much jealousy in the industry/Why are you watching me when you should just let me be Craig."

"Craig isn't preaching," says Colin Lester, the singer's manager. "For me, if you have a mystique, you don't talk about it, and he doesn't. But there is one issue, and that's 'Slicker,' which is relevant to what he's experienced in the last three years, really."

Lester says that with this album, due Nov. 19, David wanted to show growth from the smooth sound of "Born to Do It," which sold more than 7 million copies worldwide, more than a million of those in the U.S.

For half of the new album, he worked again with Mark Hill, the writer-producer who was his collaborator on the debut. One song, "The Rise and Fall," is a duet with Sting that David wrote using a sample of the former Police-man's "Shape of My Heart."

For the other half, he turned to the duo of Trevor Henry and Antony Marsh, two young mixers with little production experience who had set up shop in an environment as aesthetically far from the pop elite as he could find in London.

"They were living in the slums of London," Lester says. "Craig recorded with them in a tenement block that was about to be torn down. These guys got a grant to do mixes there. The music Craig made there is back to basics."

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