Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Mercury Music Prize reaction

Yep, it’s that time of year again. The time of year that music critics fall over themselves to slag off the choices made by the judges for the now Barclaycard-sponsored Mercury Music Prize. The time of year that music fans become even more rabid and defensive than usual of their favourite bands and artists. And the time of year someone you’ve never heard of sells 1000% more copies of their album after inclusion on the shortlist.

This year’s chosen twelve throws up few surprises. Kasabian’s third album West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum is probably the only shock entry from the more mainstream entries. The Leicester boys are not typical Mercury contenders at all but the bookies have installed them as early favourites.

Disappointingly the judges (which include NME’s outgoing Editor Conor McNicholas, naturally...) have predictably bought into the NME-led hype about the Horrors. Their second record Primary Colours is a complete My Bloody Valentine rip-off, but for some reason nobody else seems to have noticed.

Another unlistenable album to my fragile ears is the recent debut release from Florence and the Machine. Lungs ticks all the boxes the Mercury judges love – it’s eclectic, kooky and different to what people might expect – but it’s not actually very good, and in their haste to fall at Flo’s feet, the panel have missed that somewhat important fact.

A more interesting female pop star on the list is La Roux. Her two singles Bulletproof and In For The Kill both bothered the very upper reaches of the charts despite her awkward image. However, it remains to be seen whether the judges feel there is enough depth to her album to be worth the award.

Little Boots will be disappointed to have missed out on a nod. Her Kylie-inspired debut Hands was a stunning opening to the year, but her hype seems to have died away as quickly as it started. Another unexpected omission is Doves, who were widely expected to profit from what was roundly referred to in the press as ‘the Elbow effect’.

I’m surprised that beautiful duo Slow Club are not included for the twee kids and Grammatics and White Lies both miss out despite being the bands of choice for many indie kids over the last few months. Broken Records would have been an absolute certainty but their album was a disappointment after their tremendous early singles.

Readers of the previous incarnation of this website will be well aware of my love of Glasvegas. Their debut album, released way back in September, was easily my favourite of last year, and it sounds just as exciting and liberating now. But albums that are not fresh in the judges’ memories do not often do well and a Scottish win would be a big surprise, despite the band’s sheer brilliance.

Elsewhere on the shortlist is the Bjork-lite but critically acclaimed Natasha Khan, aka Bat For Lashes, with her latest effort, and token folkie Lisa Hannigan, who is probably still best known for providing the sumptuous female vocals on Damien Rice’s gentle but sublime debut album O.

There are then a quartet of acts I have no qualms about admitting to being completely oblivious to (in fact, it is my belief that the panel invent a band each year to try and fox the press). Sweet Billy Pilgrim, Led Bib, Speech Debelle and the Invisible are the awesome foursome (in the panel’s eyes, at least). I am a man of simple tastes and none of the afore-mentioned had crossed my radar at all before this morning.

And last but not least, my tip: Friendly Fires. Their superb eponymous record has been the very definition of a slow-burner, but festival season has seen them explode into the mainstream. They’re the band on everyone’s lips at the moment thanks to staggeringly good songs such as Paris and White Diamonds, and I can easily see the judges going for their dance-funk-rock twist.

So there you have it – the chosen 12. Who’s your pick? Who is missing from the shortlist?

This article was written for The Music Magazine and is published here.

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