Grammy Awards were handed out last week in 107 categories. If you didn't win one, you probably weren't trying. (Or you were up against Ray Charles' much-loved, little-listened-to Genius Loves Company.) Here, TIME's Josh Tyrangiel picks through the albums the 17,000-member recording academy rewarded and a few it mysteriously overlooked to find ones you will like.
THE COLLEGE DROPOUT
IT HAS BEEN SAID that West's rhymes against higher education make him a dangerous role model, in which case--good. Dangerous role models are the only ones, musically speaking, worth a damn. As the survivor of a life-threatening car wreck (he recorded his vocals for the song Through the Wire with his jaw wired shut), West isn't really anticollege so much as drunk on live-life-now narcissism. He uses most of Dropout, winner of the Best Rap Album prize, to congratulate himself for doing the work it took to become a star and berating the chumps who buy into a system that he believes slowly deprives them of their dreams. There are moments when West is as funny (and as petulant) as Eminem, but as his choir sings, "When it comes to being true, at least true to me/ One thing I've found, one thing I've found, oh no you never let me down," you will agree: he knows a few things they don't teach at Harvard.
SHE ROCKS A little more than most crooners and croons a little more than most rockers, so Merritt never stood much of a chance in the straightforward Best Country Album category. Like all genre crossers, she uses whatever works--an R&B horn section, the crisp guitar of Heartbreaker Mike Campbell--to create an effortlessly seductive record that swings from the cool influence of Dusty Springfield to the complicated warmth of Nanci Griffith.
THE REVOLUTION STARTS ... NOW
NEVER MIND THAT the revolution Earle proclaimed didn't happen on Nov. 2. For lefties, this winner in the Best Contemporary Folk category still offers righteous anger at the direction the country is taking and the malevolence of the Establishment--just as a good folk album should. And any right-winger who can't laugh at the skulking, faux reggae Condi, Condi (surely one of the best love songs ever written about a former National Security Adviser) deserves to be locked in a room with Lee Greenwood for eternity.
GOOD NEWS FOR PEOPLE WHO LOVE BAD NEWS
AS YOU MAY HAVE GUESSED from the title, Modest Mouse is fueled by pessimism, so losing in the Best Alternative Album category probably didn't come as a surprise. The key to the band's appeal, though, is an unexpected lack of bitterness. Bad things happen--oh, well, the band says on Float On, its first radio hit in a decade-long career. Isaac Brock's squawked-out vocals and an appearance by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band turn the downward spiral into something arch, melodic and ever so fun.