Love them or hate them The Grammys are the biggest, best and, let’s face it, the only music awards show that really matters. The winners might be arbitrary and the panel always rewards success over artistry, but this is the only glitzy shindig that’s happy to let country, jazz, traditional R&B and classical music stand shoulder to shoulder with Jay-Z and Beyonce.
It may be bloated, but it delivers once in a lifetime moments (where else would you see Bob Dylan playing with Mumford & Sons?) and, for better or worse, it provides a solid gauge of where the music industry is heading.
So what did the 2014 edition tell us about guitar music?
Closing a show which featured Katy Perry being burned at the stake, robots rocking with Stevie Wonder, and Macklemore leading 30 couples through their wedding vows as Madonna ushered in their first dance (seriously that happened), is an unenviable task.
The Grammys decided to place their faith in the once ridiculed Fleetwood Mac songwriter and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, who has been reclaiming his guitar hero throne on the road this year. The guitarist joined forces with the Nine Inch Nails, Queens Of The Stone Age and Dave Grohl adding some delicious, darting, countrified intensity to Trent Reznor’s “A Copy” before joining in the tumultuous jamming session that ensued when Josh Homme hit the stage.
He’s spent a long time in the wilderness, but Lindsay is finally getting the respect he deserves.
How to even describe this performance? Metallica have rocked out with symphony orchestras and made ears bleed for all the wrong reasons with Lou Reed, but their performance with concert pianist Lang Lang remains one of their strangest.
Lang Lang’s piano driven intro to “One” sounded phenomenal in isolation, as did his discordant mid-track breakdown, but the classical and metal sounds clashed awkwardly when Kirk Hammett took to the stage. Still, as the world reflects on the 100th Anniversary of the Great War, hearing Metallica’s anti-war epic in a new light felt timely and sage.
When it came to mainstream rock, school was very much in session as the 60+ club swept almost every major award. Black Sabbath’s “God Is Dead?” might have been a touch clean for our tastes, but it was a deserving winner of Best Metal Performance; however eyebrows were raised in the rock categories when Paul McCartney and Led Zeppelin sailed home.
The idea that the single best guitar record of the last 12 months was a Led Zeppelin live album is rather depressing. As great as Zeppelin’s comeback was, it’s hard to imagine an old Stevie Wonder live performance taking home best pop album. The Grammys are concerned primarily with success and the message read loud and clear: Jack White, Queens Of The Stone Age, Kings Of Leon and Muse simply don’t cut the mustard.
Hopping over to the Best Alternative Album we see youth thriving once again. Vampire Weekend’s innovative examination of the end of their extended adolescence (Modern Vampires Of The City) ran out a worthy winner in a category jam-packed with great records. Aussie rockers and Guitar Planet favourites Tame Impala might well feel hard done by as Lonerism narrowly missed out.
Modern rock and metal might be struggling to get noticed, but the old genres, which were once brushed to the side, are creating credible and hugely exciting new stars.
Gary Clark Jr. was popping up right, left and centre at the 2014 Grammys and his long awaited breakthrough year was topped off when he won Best Traditional R&B Performance for “Please Come Home”. Smooth, silky and devastatingly soulful: GCJ deserves all the plaudits.
Country was another category hotly contested between artists thriving in the here and now. The Civil Wars, Darius Rucker and Kacey Musgraves nabbed the major awards, but the competition was fierce from contemporary artists.
One of the evening’s most worthy winners came from the world of roots and blues as Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite proved that the old and the new don’t have to be at odds. Get Up! was a haunting, deep-throated album full of lonesome gravel and wonderfully solemn guitar work.
The times they are a changing; rock might be on the wane, but guitar music is still finding a way to shine and shift units.
Enter Shikari renew their archly political assault while expanding their sonic horizons on The Mindsweep.
Brutish, brazen and ungodly satisfying, Royal Blood rode a barrage of chugging bass grooves all the way to the top of the charts in 2014.
Opeth may preach exclusively to the converted, but to overlook the Swedes’ staggeringly consistent brilliance is foolhardy.
Soothing and sorrow-laden in equal measure, Lost In The Dream by The War On Drugs left Guitar Planet speechless.
Guitar Planet has had a love/hate relationship with Slash since Velvet Revolver split, but it remains impossible to deny his freewheeling riffs and slippery solos.