Mercury needs to crown a new king to prove its relevance
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