Clash Comment – The Mercury Prize

The annual award stirs debate again...

The annual Mercury Prize – this year sponsored by Barclaycard – is to be contested by twelve strong acts from across the spectrum of contemporary British music. Each has earned a shot at the country’s premier album award though being at the top of their respective games in the opinion of the judging panel. But, to me, there are two glaring omissions from the shortlisted dozen, announced this morning at the Hospital in Covent Garden, London.

As presenter Lauren Laverne read out the final twelve – selected from a longer list numbering several hundred long-players – I was eagerly anticipating the mention of either Micachu And The Shapes or Late Of The Pier, for the albums ‘Jewellery’ (REVIEW) and ‘Fantasy Black Channel’ (FEATURED) respectively. Ideally both, but I’d take one or the other given the handful of obvious choices certain to make the list – La Roux and Bat For Lashes the most immediately apparent. Yet neither has made the cut, which isn’t just disappointing – it’s saddening.

To these ears, no British album of the past twelve months has dazzled with such a level of creativity, with a truly maverick spirit of adventurousness, as these two releases; both are the work of young, hungry artists, looking to upset the balance as they know it on terms entirely of their making, but at no point going so far into the leftfield as to lose that most necessary tag: pop. If the Mercury panel’s goal is to celebrate diversity, invention and uniqueness in British music, then here they missed a trick (or, indeed, two). If the plan is to present a twelve varied enough to tick certain genre boxes, but safe enough to flog a few accompanying compilation albums, then they’ve succeeded. But really: are the selected albums from Glasvegas (INTERVIEWED) and Kasabian truly among the top twelve of the past year? Of course not, and any critic writing from the heart rather than with one eye on their wallet could tell you as much.

I’m not saying they don’t deserve to be highlighted as good albums – Glasvegas’ eponymous debut entered the albums chart at two, and received a great deal of critical acclaim at the time (although it was hardly mentioned in the run up to the Mercury announcement, in this office anyway), and Kasabian’s third, ‘West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum’ (REVIEW), is the Leicester band’s most ambitious LP yet, a modern lad-rock take on the mystical tomfoolery of Led Zeppelin. But, honestly, if you swapped them for the absent LOTP and Micachu, the list would be a much nicer-looking affair. And, most importantly, forward-thinking creative souls would receive the recognition they deserve – it’s not like ‘West Ryder…’ or ‘Glasvegas’ need sales boosts.

But, one shouldn’t dwell for too long on what isn’t, as the Mercury has highlighted a handful of Genuinely Worthwhile Releases (and it’s not like it can please everyone, even if the final twelve are the product of a panel): The Invisible, The Horrors, La Roux, Bat For Lashes and Friendly Fires were all tipped by Clash ahead of today’s announcement – read our preview HERE – and absolutely deserve their places. I’m particularly pleased for The Invisible (INTERVIEWED), a band I’ve had the pleasure of putting on in the recent past and who’ve been supported on this site – and in Clash Magazine – since before the release of their eponymous debut.

The rise of Florence And The Machine has been spectacular, so it’s no surprise to see ‘Lungs’ (REVIEW) make the list; London rapper Speech Debelle has also had a great year in terms of adulation from all the right places, so it’s pleasing, too, to see her ‘Speech Therapy’ debut get the nod. As for releases from Led Bib, Lisa Hannigan and Sweet Billy Pilgrim, since I’ve not heard them I can’t comment on their worthiness – but Hannigan’s performance of the track ‘Lille’ at the announcement was delightful, so I’m looking forward to hearing more from the Irish folk singer.

So, take out a couple (do I really need to remind you which ones?) to make room for Late Of The Pier and Micachu And The Shapes and, maybe, I’d be happy. Then again, the whole point of lists like this is that nobody’s completely satisfied with what’s been selected – the fun comes from subsequent debate, from the over-pints arguments of the forthcoming hours and days.

And when we are content, that’ll be the day that the Mercury Prize no longer matters.

– – –

The shortlisted twelve, plus the latest William Hill odds:

Glasvegas – ‘Glasvegas’ (6/1)
Bat For Lashes – ‘Fur And Gold’ (6/1)
Lisa Hannigan – ‘Sea Sew’ (8/1)
The Horrors – ‘Primary Colours’ (8/1)
Kasabian – ‘West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum’ (5/1)
Led Bib – ‘Sensible Shoes’ (10/1)
The Invisible – ‘The Invisible’ (10/1)
La Roux – ‘La Roux’ (6/1)
Friendly Fires – ‘Friendly Fires’ (8/1)
Sweet Billy Pilgrim – ‘Twice Born Men’ (10/1)
Speech Debelle – ‘Speech Therapy’ (8/1)
Florence & The Machine – ‘Lungs’ (5/1)

Read Clash’s ‘fantasy twelve’ HERE. The Mercury winner is to be announced on September 8.

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