Disc for disc, this is a stronger category than last year, when a wave of sentiment carried Ray Charles's relatively unremarkable Genius Loves Company to victory. This field would have been even better if Coldplay's egregiously overlooked X&Y—the real album of the year—had been nominated instead of weak link McCartney. A case can be made for any of the other four contenders. Comeback girl Carey hit the high note of her career with Emancipation, the best-selling CD of 2005, while Stefani left no doubt about who was the new Madonna. But this is a two-horse race between U2 and West. Had the powerful Atomic Bomb not been released way back in November 2004, we would have tapped Bono and the boys to win. Theirs is probably the better album. It's a virtual toss-up, but we'll go with the far fresher Late Registration. For sheer ambition, West (who was nominated in this category last year for his debut, The College Dropout) was in a class of his own with this hip-hop opus.
Record of the Year