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Bomb Garden 

by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & Grammy Portents

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & H & lt;/span & as no one noticed that the Red Hot Chili Peppers have made the same album for 12 years? This question and others, asked during Sunday's Grammy Awards, had me murderous with indignation and boredom. Goldfrapp notwithstanding, there were no surprises in the Grammy nominees, thus there could be no surprises in the winners. Strike that: Bon Jovi won for country collaboration.

Though no one accuses the Grammys of being merit-based, at least they used to try. Among last year's multi-Grammy nominees were Alison Krauss and some dude named Ludwig Rodriguez Jr., who doesn't even have a website. This year's dark horse, in contrast, was Gnarls Barkley, whose debut (summertime airwave ubiquity notwithstanding) only went platinum once.

Here's poetic justice though: the most major-label-favored Grammy race I can remember followed hard on the heels of one of the industry's worst sales years ever. No self-respecting man of science (which I definitely am) would claim a tantalizing correlation like that proves causation (much less karma), but the possibility has me giddy.

While Mary J. Blige celebrates five Grammy wins, the industry reels over a 5 percent drop in album sales in 2006. The first television soundtrack to top the Billboard album charts since Miami Vice (a dubious sign), High School Musical sold 3.75 million copies last year. The previous winner, Mariah Carey's Emancipation of Mimi, sold 4.88 million.

The best-selling album of 2006 sold 33 percent worse than its 2005 counterpart, yet the industry was only down 5 percent. More albums are shouldering the burden of sales, meaning more are cutting hunks out of the same shrinking pie.

With the long-ball smash falling so short lately, major labels are diversifying their rosters. And they're taking established indie acts into their folds with less expectation of radio-friendly singles. Sales of The Crane Wife, the Decemberists' debut for Capitol, hit around 160,000 last week. Good numbers for Colin Meloy and company, but modest by old benchmarks. Still, Capitol is very happy. Further proof, perhaps, that the days of screaming "sellout" are over.

Next week: What this means for indie labels
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