A comeback story, a living legend, an established frontwoman making her solo debut, the world's biggest rock band and an opinionated rapper recorded the projects that make up a diverse album-of-the-year slate for the 2006 Grammy Awards.
The nominees are largely music industry veterans, though their styles could not be more different.
Mariah Carey's blend of pop and R&B is competing with Paul McCartney's songwriting prowess, Gwen Stefani's dance-oriented solo foray and U2's rock anthems, while Kanye West offers up fresh, socially conscious rap.
Here is a rundown of each nominated album and its success on the Billboard charts.
- "The Emancipation of Mimi," Mariah Carey: Carey's eighth studio album is her best-selling since 1995's "Daydream," which has sold 7.5 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. "Mimi" has sold 4.4 million copies in the United States since its April release, and Island Def Jam reports total worldwide sales of more than 7 million units. The project debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with 404,000 units. It stayed at No. 1 for two weeks.
Carey co-wrote the project's 14 tracks — including hit single "We Belong Together" — co-produced most of the tunes and was executive producer of the album with Island Def Jam Music Group chairman Antonio "L.A." Reid. The album emphasizes her octave-defying vocal talents through collaborations with Jermaine Dupri, the Neptunes, Snoop Dogg and fellow nominee West.
"This is a comeback if you want to be technical about it," Carey told Billboard in November, "because it's an album of songs that have come from my heart that I didn't have to battle the record company about. It was like, 'We support you as an artist."'
- *"Chaos and Creation in the Backyard," Paul McCartney: McCartney's 20th post-Beatles album and his first studio set in four years in many ways marks a return to form. The Capitol Records project, which has scanned 377,000 units, features the artist playing multiple instruments — the first time he has done so since 1980's "McCartney II." The album also includes some of his most critically acclaimed songs in years, such as "Fine Line." The artist won a Grammy in this category in 1967 as a member of the Beatles for "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."
"Chaos" peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard 200 when it was released in September.
McCartney told Billboard around the time of the album's release that after meeting with producer Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Beck), he discovered that their ideas were "surprisingly similar. I suggested a couple of possible things that I was listening to that we might draw off. And he said, 'No, we've got enough to draw off. People want an album that sounds like you."'
- "Love. Angel. Music. Baby.," Gwen Stefani: The '80s-inspired dance album from Stefani — her first as a solo artist -- includes collaborations with Dr. Dre and Eve, the Neptunes, OutKast's Andre 3000, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and her No Doubt bandmate Tony Kanal. The Interscope project has scanned 3.3 million units since its November 2004 release and reached No. 5 on the Billboard 200 thanks to a slew of hits including "What You Waiting For?," "Rich Girl" and "Hollaback Girl."
This success follows almost 10 years of hits with No Doubt, which collectively have sold 15 million units in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
"(My inspiration) was so strong with 'Love. Angel. Music. Baby.,"' Stefani says. "I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and it was just like I had such a fire of inspiration."
- "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb," U2: The Irish quartet's 11th studio album debuted with a bang at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in November 2004 with sales of 840,000 units. The project has scanned 2.9 million copies in the United States on the strength of such tracks as "Vertigo," "All Because of You" and "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own."
Some critics called the album the group's best effort since "The Joshua Tree," which won a Grammy in this category in 1987. It follows on the heels of its popular 2000 project, "All That You Can't Leave Behind," which has sold 10.8 million units worldwide, according to Interscope.
U2's manager, Paul McGuinness, told Billboard in 2005 that the band is "always trying to beat their previous best. They went into (their career) to do it as long as they could be great and then stop. They hold the title, and they're not going to give it away. If someone wants to come and take it away, they'll have to fight them for it."
- "Late Registration," Kanye West: Not one to couch his feelings, West told Billboard last summer that his sophomore album "is so good, it's scary." He said that some of the work on his debut, "The College Dropout," which has scanned 2.8 million units, "was rushed, although people liked it. I've always wanted to sound like I was rapping at the top of a mountain. I wanted to change the sound of music."
West worked with producer Jon Brion and a host of artists including Jamie Foxx, Jay-Z, John Legend, Nas and Common on the August 2005 release, and incorporated previously recorded vocals from Bill Withers, Curtis Mayfield and Etta James. The album blends hip-hop, alternative and soul with live instrumentation.
Such tracks as "Gold Digger" and "Diamonds From Sierra Leone" propelled the Roc-a-Fella album to bow at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with 860,000 units. Total sales now count 2.2 million copies.