The shortlist for the Mercury Prize has just been announced. Now, while this is pretty big musical news in it’s native UK, readers from other shores may be unaware of this particular accolade, so let’s allow the chaps behind the prize themselves to sum things up:
The Barclaycard Mercury Prize exists solely to champion music in the UK, mainly through the ‘Albums of the Year’ competition, which celebrates recorded music of all genres by British or Irish artists. The twelve Albums of the Year are announced each July with the overall winner decided on the night of the Awards Show in September. The music on the album is the only thing taken into account.
It’s something of a unique award: while it’s undeniably an example of self-congratulation by the industry, it’s also seen as having a ‘serious’ edge. Unlike, say, the Grammys or the Brits, the Mercury Prize is one which wholly reflects the tastes of the critical fraternity. Previous winners have included Primal Scream’s ‘Screamadelica’, Pulp’s ‘Different Class’, Roni Size’s ‘New Forms’ and last year’s champion, ‘The xx’ by, erm, The xx.
So: who’s going to claim the gong this year? The shortlist runs as follows:
Adele – 21
Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi
Elbow – Build a Rocket Boys!
Everything Everything – Man Alive
Ghostpoet – Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam
Gwilym Simcock – Good Days at Schloss Elmau
James Blake – James Blake
Katy B – On a Mission
King Creosote & Jon Hopkins – Diamond Mine
Metronomy – The English Riviera
PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
Tinie Tempah – Disc-Overy
The winner will be announced on September 6th, but in the meantime, let’s dissect that list and see who we think is the most likely to claim victory.
First up, there’s the previous winners: Elbow and P J Harvey (rewarded for ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ in 2008 and ‘Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea’ in 2001). And while P J Harvey’s ‘Let England Shake’ is an absolute masterpiece, the Mercury panel has never been known to choose someone twice over. Therefore: neither of these two.
Then there’s the ‘pop’ contingent. While it’s admirable that the prize doesn’t eschew pop music in the way many ‘worthy’ critical awards would deem appropriate, it just doesn’t seem likely that Adele, Katy B or Tinie Tempah are going to capture the hearts of the panel amidst a roster of more ‘serious’ artists. Then again, the Mercury Prize does like to retain a wilfully surprising streak, so there’s a possible chance that Adele (the biggest pop star in Britain right now) could be awarded the gong, purely as an act of ‘didn’t-expect-that, did-you?’ contradiction.
There’s a few indie acts in there: Anna Calvi, Everything Everything, James Blake and Metronomy. But then indie darlings The xx won last year, so Mr Mercury won’t want to retread old ground. We’re betting, then, that none of these guys are going to come out on top.
Which leaves the ‘difficult’ contingent, those who work in more obscure genres. The Mercury panel always like to buck expectations and support the underdog (hence Roni Size’s low-key drum and bass effort beat Radiohead’s seminal ‘OK Computer’ back in 1997). This year we have pianist Gwilym Simcock, veteran singer-songwriter King Creosote and electronic producer Ghostpoet. Chances of any of these winning: we’ll say pretty good.
So – if any of you are the betting types, feel free to follow the advice outlined above. Just don’t try to chase us with knuckle-dusters and pool cues if you happen to lose your money …