Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The metronomic Mercury Music Award

It’s been a while. Not since Glastonbury. I am never going to gain any sort of reputation as a world famous blogger if I continue to make these posts so infrequent.

It’s one of those boring clich├ęs that as you get older the years seem to take less time. I am afraid, though, that it does seem to be true. Bizarrely, one particular event that appears to come round quicker every year is the Mercury Music Award – to many minds (including mine), this country’s premier music prize. It is awarded to the best album of the year by a British artist. A nomination for this award is a big deal. I have often found it hard to care about awards for music because the core idea of music is that it is totally and vitally subjective; when so many differing opinions exist how is it possible to make definitive assessments of the best albums and best songs? I suppose to a certain extent it is the same of all awards ceremonies. Nevertheless, I must admit to getting a tad excited about the Mercury. I am not sure why. Perhaps it is that unlike many other awards, the artists actually seem to really respect this prize – indeed it really is an honour.

This year the range of nominations does not appear to be much different from past years. As usual a brilliantly eclectic mix has been chosen. The panel of industry experts have managed to cover most bases, from the mainstream pop of Adele, to the alternative indie choice Anna Calvi, to the experimental hip-hop of Ghostpoet.  They even have contemporary jazz covered with this year’s obligatory has-anybody-heard-of-them pick Gwilym Simcock (others from recent times include the Kit Downes Trio, Portico Quartet, Basquiat Strings, all of whom are obviously now household names).

I think one of the reasons that I do care about this award is that I really enjoy trying to pick the winner of the competition. The Mercury has gained a reputation as being the Grand National of awards because it blooming difficult to pick the winner. For every year that an obvious choice wins, like last year’s triumph of the XX, there are years when leftfield acts such as Speech Debelle have walked away with the gong.  This year, according to Paddy Power, PJ Harvey is the strong favourite at 6-4 but I would not want to place anything more than the minimum bet on Miss Polly from Dorset, incidentally a Mercury veteran with one win and two nominations to her name.  How can you possibly be confident when you remember that Elegant Slumming by M People (I mean, seriously?) beat both Blur’s Parklife and Pulp’s His ‘n’ Hers to the award in 1994?

So I am going to plant the kiss of death on a band from Devon by naming them my choice to win the award.  The English Riviera is Metronomy’s third album and it came to my attention because of the fantastic first single The Look – possible contender for song of the year (god, look at me now, I’m giving awards out all over the place).  I tend to see musical success as a venn diagram with two circles, one captioned ‘critical acclaim’ and the other ‘popular acclaim’ and, after threatening for a number of years, this album has opened the door for Metronomy to slip into the holy overlapping section where the critical and the popular are coupled.  The record stays true to its title throughout as nostalgic songs about leaving your career and running away to the coast are interspersed with the squawking of seagulls and the sounds of rushing waves.  It is refreshing to hear such a celebration of the English summertime when, at this time of year, we are usually surrounded by constant complaining about the weather.  I have mentioned before in this blog about my frustration with the current deluge of electronic artists and the rigorously imposed ban on guitar music. However, here is an electronic album that is intelligent, precise, thoughtful and tight. It contains no filler and not one duff track.  

So please, if any of you industry big-wigs are reading this blog, consider awarding the gong to the brilliant Metronomy. They are truly deserving of it. Alternatively, if you don’t want to give it to them then Anna Calvi’s album is equally as worthy.  But what do I know? I would not be at all surprised to see Gwilym Simcock walking away with a £20,000 cheque clutched tightly to his chest and his reputation hugely enhanced.  

The Mercury Music Prize will be decided on the 6th September (I think)