With excellent 2004 discs by U2 and Eminem being released too late to make the Sept. 30 Grammy cutoff, and eligible standouts like Jay-Z's The Black
Album and George Michael's sorely overlooked Patience not getting nods, this top category is weaker than it should be. Indeed, nothing here screams "Hey Grammy!" like OutKast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
did last year. This year's hip-hop contender, West's overrated debut, The College Dropout
, benefits from a bit of freshman luck—and a lot of hype. Usher's solid but unspectacular Confessions
, 2004's biggest-selling CD, makes the cut because of its commercial clout. And the sentimental vote nabs a nomination (and quite possibly a trophy) for Charles's not-quite-genius final album. Only Green Day's politically charged punk-rock opera and Keys's classic soul opus truly belong in this category. It's a close call, but we'll give it to Keys, who should have been nominated here for her 2001 debut, Songs in A Minor
, and one-upped herself with Diary
by turning the page back to the golden age of Aretha, Stevie and Marvin.
Record of the Year