By Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune (TNS)
On a nostalgia-heavy Grammy night generally lacking in surprise, Beck bested heavily favored artists such as Beyoncé and Sam Smith for album of the year.
The 57th annual Grammy Awards gave Beck’s “Morning Phase” its highest accolade Sunday, while putting the brakes on the expected coronation of British soul star Smith and pop queen Beyoncé.
The unexpected win continued a Grammy tradition of making up for past oversights by awarding a deserving veteran artist for a lesser work. “Morning Phase” is in many ways a lighter knockoff of Beck’s somber “Sea Change” from 2002.
Despite the setback, Smith won four Grammys, including three of the “big four”: best new artist, song of the year and record of the year, for his gospel-tinged hit “Stay With Me.”
“Thanks for breaking my heart … because you won me four Grammys,” Smith said, addressing the lover who inspired many of the melancholy songs on his “In the Lonely Hour” debut album, including “Stay With Me.”
Beyoncé won two Grammys, but none in the major categories. She did get the last word though. She performed the Thomas A. Dorsey gospel classic “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” paving the way for a John Legend-Common collaboration on the stirring, new civil rights anthem “Glory.”
As part of the weekend of Grammy ceremonies, Chicago blues giant Buddy Guy received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
It was a night otherwise notable for conservative, even nostalgic presentations. Here are a few of the highs and lows from the nationally televised broadcast from Los Angeles:
Best Grammy opener ever? A 59-year-old juvenile delinquent in schoolboy knickers opened the nationally televised portion of the Grammys, and you could practically see him cackling beneath his beanie. Angus Young amped things up instantly with his beleaguered band, AC/DC, which recently lost his brother, Malcolm Young, to dementia. But the rock didn’t stop, not even for a tribute, sentimental or otherwise.
One “loser” and one big winner: “As a former loser” of best new artist, Taylor Swift handed Sam Smith his first big award of the night.
Stiffest performance? Lots of contenders, including a lugubrious “A Little Bit of Your Heart” by Ariana Grande, complete with strings, clunky piano chords and bejeweled ear monitors. And Tom Jones and Jessie J didn’t exactly light it up with their perfunctory tribute to the songwriting team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. But imagine the barbershop quartet version they could’ve done with the winter-spring duo of Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, who “danced cheek to cheek” later with considerably more flair.
What decade is this anyway, Part 1: More than 30 minutes into the telecast, we still hadn’t progressed much beyond the ’80s in terms of look, tone and aesthetic. Miranda Lambert adopted the windblown look of an early Steve Nicks MTV video for “Little Red Wagon.”
What decade is this anyway, Part 2: Madonna reprised 1989 hit “Like a Prayer” with “Living for Love,” except for the dancing Minotaurs. Progress!
What decade is this anyway, Part 3: The Grammys interrupted itself for an Electric Light Orchestra tribute, led by ELO founder Jeff Lynne, with strings, a massive band and lots of decades-old hits. But why? Viewers could be forgiven for thinking they’d stumbled accidentally into a “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert” rerun from the ’70s.
Kanye West, sensitive dude: Kanye cranked up the Autotune, just as he did on his melancholy “808’s and Heartbreak” album in 2008, on “Only One.” Autotune is West’s personal barometer for measuring sentimentality, this time directed at his daughter, North.
Strangest backing band: Herbie Hancock and Questlove as a backing band? John Mayer impersonating Buddy Holly? All in service of carrot-topped British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran? The mind reels.
Did he bargain for this? It was a nice thought by someone to let Annie Lennox join Hozier for his hit “Take Me to Church.” But I’m guessing the Irish singer didn’t expect to get absolutely smoked by Lennox, who ran away with his moment in the televised spotlight and also all her predecessors on the Grammys stage. Her powerhouse version of “I Put a Spell on You” put Hozier in the shadows, strumming his guitar.
Least expected Wes Anderson Grand Budapest Hotel homage: “Happy,” as performed by Pharrell Williams, dressed as a bellhop in a hotel lobby dance montage.
Inexplicable Grammy programming decisions, Part 1: Katy Perry following a domestic-abuse message from President Barack Obama with a ballad? Yes, that’s exactly the singer America had in mind for that moment after last week’s over-the-top Super Bowl halftime performance.
Photo: Mary J. Blige and Sam Smith perform at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS)