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Rock 'n' roll edges out dance music in 2012

One of the coolest albums of the year was the high-voltage Blunderbuss, the handiwork of 2013 Grammy nominee Jack White, shown here doing his singer-guitar slinger thing at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark in July.

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One of the coolest albums of the year was the high-voltage Blunderbuss, the handiwork of 2013 Grammy nominee Jack White, shown here doing his singer-guitar slinger thing at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark in July.

A few weeks ago in this very section of the newspaper, I trumpeted the return of disco, especially in the swirly style-over-substance dance beats of such modern practitioners as Rihanna, Maroon 5 and Chris Brown. Turn on pop radio in 2012, and it wasn't so different from 1977. Burn, baby, burn!

In our time of war and recession and incessantly lousy news, air-headed synthy songs such as Carly Rae Jepsen's Call Me Maybe (annoying) and Psy's Gangnam Style (annoyingly awesome!) dominated the year. When we the people cranked the tunes, we longed to escape into over-produced silliness. "Hey, sexy lady!"

But hark, what was that slow, stomping, totally awesome rumble coming from the underground? What was that natural real sound nudging in between the artifice of Katy Perry and Ke$ha? Cool your boogie shoes for a second and give a listen . . .

Look out, disco.

Here comes rock 'n' roll.

The hottest song on the radio right now? The Lumineers' '70s-style bonfire beauty Ho Hey. Bruno Mars, an inventive young R&B slickster, is currently zipping up the charts not with a slow jam but a knocky nod to the Police, Locked Out of Heaven.

The Grammy Awards aren't known for going out on a limb and bucking the trends, but even they are predicting a rock revolution. In the midst of Disco Inferno Revisited, nominations for the 2013 Grammys were announced recently, and for the first time in a long time, they didn't reflect the pop charts.

With the exception of envelope-pushing R&B star Frank Ocean, the album of the year nominees are all rock bands: the anthemic Fun., the retroist Black Keys, Brit buskers Mumford & Sons and iconoclastic blues nutter Jack White.

When the Grammys go down Feb. 10, they're going to be loud and hairy. This year might have been the year of dance music — but it was also the year of rock's slow, sly return to popular music, and 2013 should continue that in a raucous way.

Today's scene is reminiscent of the late '80s and early '90s, when grungers Nirvana and Pearl Jam were poised to replace Me Decade dumb-fun metal bands like Motley Crue and Poison. Force often follows fluff, and here we go again.

The Grammys are voted on by the Recording Academy, a peer-based group made up of all facets of the music biz, from producers to the stars themselves. In the recent past they've routinely rewarded bestselling female acts because that's who was selling the most product: Adele, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga. Females have dominated pop music; female consumers have absolutely dominated cash registers.

But in an even more glaring switcheroo, the Grammys major category is a boys-only party.

So what's this all about? Are the Grammys tired of celebrating fluff? Is buzz-saw rock going to knock neo-disco off its perch just like punk and rock did back in the late '70s and early '80s?

Mumford & Sons' new album Babel, released in the fall, has been a huge seller with men and women — and it's still selling. The Black Keys' El Camino LP and Jack White's Blunderbuss are far more testosterone-driven in conception and reception, total garage rock with little crossover appeal. That said, they're the coolest albums of the year — and with all the upcoming attention in 2013, they probably haven't peaked sales-wise.

Earlier this year I talked to Seth Avett from North Carolina's Avett Brothers, an eclectic trio that's suddenly selling well, too. "The ebb and flow of pop is an interesting thing to watch," he said. "People are growing tired of the party and songs that are all about 'me' and how much fun I'm having. We get bored of hearing one thing, so then you strip down — and then eventually you go back to albums that sound like a robot made it."

Booty-shaking robots ruled in 2012. But can they withstand a ferocious guitar attack in 2013?

Sean Daly can be reached at Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.

Rock 'n' roll edges out dance music in 2012 12/29/12 [Last modified: Saturday, December 29, 2012 3:30am]
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