Mer­cury needs to crown a new king to prove its rel­e­vance

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

THE MER­CURY NEEDS a short, sharp, shock. A shot of adren­a­line to wake it from its near co­matose state; some­thing to re-po­si­tion it as an award that sar­cas­ti­cally laughs in the face of chart plac­ing and press pro­file. This year’s short­list wouldn’t be out of place as the in-house mu­sic for Star­bucks.

But the Mer­cury can re­claim the arty high ground and be­come a gate­keeper and sign­poster rather than just be­ing a ded­i­cated fol­lower of NME fash­ion. It can do this if it gives this year’s prize to King Cre­osote and Jon Hop­kins’s sub avant-garde Di­a­mond Mine al­bum.

The most im­por­tant rea­son, for me at least, why Di­a­mond Mine should win is that it was com­posed and recorded as a fan letter to one of the best al­bums of all time – Talk Talk’s Spirit Of Eden (search in vain for that sub­lime work in most “Great­est Al­bums Of All Time” lists). As King Cre­osote says: “For me, ev­ery record I make is go­ing to be my next at­tempt at Talk Talk’s Spirit Of Eden. And I never will make it, be­cause it’s un­touch­able. But I hon­estly think that Jon [Hop­kins] has cap­tured some­thing of it with “Di­a­mond Mine”. Try get­ting that sort of artis­tic hon­esty out of any of the other 11 nom­i­nated acts. And Cre­osote’s paean to Spirit Of Eden is a con­sid­er­able step up from the usual “we just do what we do and if any­one else likes it then that’s a bonus” non­sense.

The other rea­son Di­a­mond Mine should win is be­cause of its in­sane am­bi­tion – so sadly lack­ing (or com­pletely mis­placed) in much of the ur­ban work mak­ing up the rest of the short­list. Cre­osote wrote the al­bum as a love letter to Fife – he wanted the east Scot­tish town to come across “the way Paris ap­pears in Amelie”. If you’ve ever been to Fife (and I ac­tu­ally do have the T-shirt) you’ll re­alise the near meta­phys­i­cal im­pos­si­bil­ity of this task.

“For me, this record is a ro­man­ti­cised ver­sion of Fife,” he says. “A lot of it is about my first ex­pe­ri­ence of go­ing there – about my first home game, when I fell to­tally in love with the place. It’s a bit like my dream ver­sion of life.” And what a lan­guidly beau­ti­ful dream it is.

A labour of love in that it was seven years in the mak­ing, the al­bum is also unique in its plen­ti­ful use of “ Musique con­crète”. You hear field record­ings of seabirds and tides ebbing and flow­ing, you lis­ten in as Cre­osote goes through his med­i­cal his­tory in a lo­cal tea­room and you hear snatches of non-se­quiturs. This may not be re­mark­able per se, but it’s how he weaves the “con­crète” with the sweetly un­du­lat­ing in­stru­men­ta­tion that seals the deal.

And it’s here that some­time Cold­play col­lab­o­ra­tor Jon Hop­kins is a rev­e­la­tion. Very much from the Brian Eno/Gavin Br­yars school, Hop­kins pro­vides the be­guil­ing at­mo­spher­ics that raise this to a dif­fer­ent level.

With folk stylings that make The Pro­claimers sound as loud and as coarse as Me­gadeth, the oblique­ness of the mu­sic saves it from twee­ness – Di­a­mond Mine will never be­come a Dublin 6 din­ner-party al­bum. Or at least not as long as An­i­mal Col­lec­tive are hawk­ing their de­riv­a­tive wares.

Be­come rad­i­cal or re­dun­dant, peo­ple have been yelling at the Mer­cury for some years now, and Di­a­mond Mine presents the judg­ing panel with a gilt-edged chance to poke and prod at reign­ing mu­si­cal sen­si­bil­i­ties.

This is pre­cisely the sort of al­bum that al­ter­na­tive mu­sic awards should be re­ward­ing and bring­ing to wider at­ten­tion. On the mar­ket­ing front, older folk will find it a bit like an un­plugged Blue Nile while younger pop kidz will see it as a “chill-out” al­bum.

If it wins on Septem­ber 6th, then so does Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden.

And that’s im­por­tant.

King Cre­osote: Not look­ing very ex­cited at Mer­cury nom­i­na­tion

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