Mercury rising

This year’s shortlist for the Mercury Music Prize was revealed yesterday – and here it is:

Much has been made of the fact that there are a record five female artists in the running – Bat For Lashes (the only one of the twelve to have been up for the prize before), La Roux, Florence and the Machine, Speech DeBelle and Lisa Hannigan. Of the rest, there’s: pretend Krautrock band Kasabian; pretend Goth band The Horrors; pretend Jesus and Mary Chain band Glasvegas; pretend Klaxons band Friendly Fires; an obscure electro band who people will probably never hear again (The Invisible); an obscure acid jazz band who people will probably never want to hear again (Led Bib); and Sweet Billy Pilgrim, who produce the sort of woozy, leftfield music that iTunes would describe as “Unclassifiable” – sort of folk, sort of electronic, unsurprisingly loved by David Sylvian – and which might be a good outside punt if the Mercury panel are feeling mercurial. Given Elbow’s win last year, the omission of Doves has surprised and disappointed quite a few people; whilst the omission of Lily Allen has surprised and disappointed Lily Allen.

So it’s the usual mixture of the obscure, alternative and virtually mainstream; totally mainstream in the case of La Roux, currently distinguished by having the biggest selling single of the year by anyone who isn’t Lady Gaga. Not bad considering that Elly Jackson is essentially a noughties female Howard Jones on helium, La Roux’s sound not so much redolent of 1983 as petrified in that era. Indeed, Jackson has had the last laugh all round, given the relative commercial failure of her more hotly-tipped rival Little Boots, who also finds herself out in the cold on the Mercury front. Bat For Lashes, the only shortlisted act this year to have been nominated previously, has a fine album in Two Suns, although for me it’s not quite as good as her debut Horse and I. Although the Fleetwood Mac-channelling Daniel is obviously fabulous, as are Scott Walker’s guest vocal and the gorgeous bit where she says “we are strangers in a strange land”, sounding as though it’s a transmission from outer space.

Then there’s Florence and the Machine, who have been installed along with Kasabian as joint favourites. Overlooking the fact that having parents who were involved in the whole Studio 54 scene, and having a very privileged upbringing, kind of gives you a bit of a head start, her tunes don’t seem at all bad (I say “tunes” rather than “album”, as I’ve only heard the single – Bat For Lashes is, at the time of writing, the only one of the twelve I possess this year). But is her album – or indeed that of any of the twelve nominees – possessed of the greatness to make it worthy of the Mercury Music Prize? Granted, this is an award previously won by such epochal works as M People’s Elegant Slumming and Roni Size’s Brown Paper Bag; and even though I loved the debut albums by Franz Ferdinand and the Klaxons, they don’t amount to much more than really good, fun indie-pop records.

Maybe we were just spoiled after last year – not just winners Elbow, but also British Sea Power, Radiohead, Laura Marling, Estelle, Rachel Unthank, Last Shadow Puppets. 2008 was a vintage year with about half-a-dozen worthy potential winners, but 2009 has felt a bit lightweight where British music is concerned. Certainly, when yesterday’s reveal prompted me to consider drawing up an alternative shortlist, I found the going rather tough, as most of my favourite albums from the last 12 months have been by non-British/Irish artists – Andrew Bird, M Ward, Grizzly Bear, DM Stith (yep, I know, a pattern’s emerging here, and it has a beard and wears checked shirts). However, I did manage to come up with the following alternative shortlist (the emphasis being on short as I could only make it to six):

Antony and the Johnsons – The Crying Light
Bat for Lashes – Two Suns
Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career
Franz Ferdinand – Tonight
The Leisure Society – Sleeper
Little Boots – Hands

And now, dear reader, it’s over to you. Post comments on here with alternative shortlists. It doesn’t have to be twelve albums, but no more than twelve (and probably no fewer than five or six), and they must be by British and Irish artists (born but not necessarily resident in these isles, hence Antony) and released since the last Mercurys last September. You’ve got until 8 September, when the winner of this year’s Mercury Music Prize gets announced.

Generally speaking that winner is either going to be:

“On trend” (cf Portishead, Pulp, Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys, Klaxons) – in which case Florence, Kasabian and La Roux are all contenders;

Out of leftfield (cf Roni Size, Talvin Singh) – so any of the more obscure acts, particularly Sweet Billy Pilgrim;

Or a record that will prove to have a timelessness beyond its contemporaries (cf Primal Scream, PJ Harvey, Antony and the Johnsons, Elbow). Just as long as they don’t do a Gomez and see their subsequent efforts sink without trace…



One response to “Mercury rising

  1. With you all the way on this one, Chris. Or, as I said to your flatmate, more succinctly but less eloquently, ‘what a load of sh*te’.

    It’s growing worryingly like the BBC ‘One To Watch’ list or whatever it’s called. You know – the one fixed by record company marketing people at the start of each year.

    I too agree that the best music of late is all from over the pond, but here for what it’s worth are my suggested nominees…

    Franz Ferdinand – Tonight

    And… that’s it. I’ve looked through my itunes and I can’t find a decent British record of the last year. Blue Roses or Broken Records at a pinch. Maybe the new Jarvis Cocker (it’s certainly better than the actually nominations). Super Furries as always. I could even scrape the barrel and drag out King Creosote. But something genuinely stand-out, worthy of the Mercury? Nope.

    For that we’ll have to wait until the new Wild Beasts’ album, already album of the year and I haven’t even heard it yet.

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