The Mercury Music Demise - A frustrated account of an awards ceremony that has lost it's meaning

by - Tuesday, July 19, 2011

As a generation, we've become inudated with farcical musical competitions,awards or events, be it X Factor, the Brit Awards or the so called 'festival' , T4 on the Beach. But for serious music fans who like to see accolades handed to those who truly deserve it based on artistic merit alone, the Mercury Music Prize has always been a shining beacon of hope. Having raised the profile of many deserving acts over the years, from Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys to Pulp and The XX, to Dizzee Rascal and Ms Dynamite, the Mercury could always be relied on to celebrate all that is great about interesting and unique music, regardless of industry politics or who has shifted the most copies. However, to my, and undoubtedly countless others, disappointment, this year the judging panel seem to have been swayed by trends and sales, lending to a rather drab shortlist with some glaringly obvious omissions.

Put simply, the beauty of the prize is that it gives an invaluable profile raise, not to mention £20,000 prize money, to those who need it most. Everybody knows that the music industry isn't a particularly wealthy place to be unless you're already massive, so it seems fathomless to offer such an accolade to the likes of Adele and Tinie Tempah who yes, excel in their field but certainly don't need it to further their careers. A similar comment could be made about Elbow and PJ Harvey; the choices are simply too safe and both are previous winners, defeating the object.

As always there are the deserving newbies - Metronomy, Everything Everything and James Blake are all pushing the envelope and have a fighting chance, although it could be argued that as three predominately electronic influenced outfits, the essence of musicianship is becoming a tad blurred, despite being forward thinking. Anna Calvi however, fails to impress me massively despite the hype, as does Katy B. Both seem to be to be lazy choices, names bandied about too often, rather than representative of the deep delving the Mercury judges normally conduct.And of course there are the curveballs, but lets be honest, since the Speech Debelle incident of 2009, they won't get a look in.

You, the reader, may well say, it's one thing to criticise somebody's selection, but who would you have chosen? The first hilariously obvious addition for me would be Wild Beasts, whose album "Smother" is so lush with instrumentation, provocative imagery and beautiful vocals that really, it should be considered not only the album of the year, but a modern masterpiece. I also would have commended Alex's Turner's work on the Submarine soundtrack (if soundtracks were allowed, naturally) for similar reasons, not to mention the triumphant returns to form of Noah And The Whale for "Last Night On Earth", Friendly Fires for "Pala" and The Horrors for "Skying". Whilst these bands may have been nominated in some guise or another in the past, none have ever won, which i think needs to be rectified immediately considering that they have managed to maintain a standard of originality across albums.

Nods also should have gone to The Vaccines for "What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?" (as a distinctly british band on the rise they could make the most use of the money), and in my perhaps controversial opinion, to the fantastically titled "There Is A Hell Believe Me I've Seen It, There Is A Heaven Let's Keep It A Secret" by Bring Me The Horizon. Whilst the Mercury has never rewarded a true rock art in it's history, I feel the time should well be now considering the strength and diversity of the British metal scene of late. It would certainly liven up a list that currently reads more like a who's who of Britain.

Whilst anybody could win this year and it could be justifiable in some manner, it seems to me that the Mercury panel are in grave danger of losing their sense of empowerment in terms of being able to change the fortunes of young, fresh and innovative musicians. The whole excitement of the awards is seeing how it influences the career of the band afterwards; Arctic Monkeys, Klaxons and The XX were truly the best on their field at the time, and all experienced tremendous surges in their album sales post win. The bottom line is simply that: winning the prize is exposure you can get nowhere else. Surely this means more than another piece of silverware in Adele's cabinet? I suppose we shall have to wait until September to find out. But for now, I feel disheartened that a country as musically vibrant as ours can allegedly be represent by this honestly, rather boring dozen.

The Mercury Music Prize Nominees 2011
Adele “21”
PJ Harvey “Let England Shake”
Anna Calvi “Anna Calvi”
Elbow “Build A Rocket Boys!”
James Blake “James Blake”
Katy B “On A Mission”
Metronomy “The English Riviera”
Tinie Tempah “Disc-overy”
King Creosote and Jon Hopkins “Diamond Mind”
Ghostpoet “Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam”
Gwilyn Simock “Good Days at Schloss Elmau”
Everything Everything “Man Alive”

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  1. It seems as if you're losing faith in The Barclaycard Mercury Prize. And after reading this post, I can see why. I am a firm believer in "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". So I don't understand why this year's judging panel decided 2 shift gears. I also find it kind of ridiculous that Tinie Tempah and Adele are nominated for such a prize; especially since in the past it's been given to artists that are on the rise. And like you said, neither one of them need the notoriety or the money. You know that's something that I don't like about some of these Independent Film Festivals. Sometimes the Hollywood "A-Listers" will enter into a festival and basically ruin the chances of any new actors and directors that are there seeking recognition and funding....But that's a horse of a different color......What is this modern masterpiece that you speak of? Well obviously you have great taste in music so I'll have 2 check out "Smother" this summer....btw, what was the Speech Debelle incident of 2009?

  2. Hiya, I would strongly recommend you do listen to Wild Beasts "Smother": I don't think I can justify how good it is here but rest assured you'll find it breathtaking. And the Speech Debelle incident concerns the act Speech Debelle who won in 2009 but was a complete unknown (and I mean COMPLETE unknown), and seemed to fade into obscurity soon after winning. Bit of a shame really.