Tak­ing the tem­per­a­ture of the Mer­cury Mu­sic Prize . . . still tepid

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - OPINION - Brian Boyd on mu­sic [email protected]­times.com

It’s less than a month to go to the an­nounce­ment of this year’s Mer­cury Mu­sic Prize short­list, and Lad­brokes are first out of the traps with odds as to who it thinks will fea­ture for the Best Bri­tish or Ir­ish al­bum of the year award.

Ir­ish acts tra­di­tion­ally don’t fare well – there have been nom­i­na­tions but never a win­ner. That could change this year: James Vin­cent McMor­row is pick­ing up steam, even if he is cur­rently way out at 33/1.

The Mer­cury has of­fi­cially been de­clared dead a few times over its 22-year run. Ac­cord­ing to last year’s obituary, it had be­come “way too main­stream”, prof­fer­ing as ev­i­dence the crime of five short­listed al­bums hav­ing gone to num­ber-one – that’s mu­sic that peo­ple ac­tu­ally like and want to pay money for, as op­posed to the usual Mer­cury dross of some throat-sing­ing wun­derkind from a re­mote Scot­tish is­land who knit­ted all his own al­bum cov­ers.

This year’s award al­ready looks like a fight be­tween two ex­cit­ing new tal­ents. Poet Kate Tem­pest – who is this week’s Gig of the Week af­ter her per­for­mance at the Kilkenny Arts Fes­ti­val (see p2) – is gain­ing mo­men­tum, but will hardly be sat­is­fied as be­ing de­scribed as the “new Mike Skin­ner”. The other is FKA twigs, in­ter­viewed on these pages last week, who is sim­i­larly de­scribed as the “new Tricky”.

If you fancy a punt on this year’s short­list, please don’t put money on Lon­don Gram­mar, who Lad­brokes has at 16/1 to be nom­i­nated. Their al­bum is in­el­i­gi­ble; it was re­leased a day be­fore this year’s cut-off point.

Bet­ting on the Mer­cury is a bit like bet­ting on the Grand Na­tional – ex­cept the win­ner of the Grand Na­tional usu­ally makes more sense. This “se­ri­ous” mu­sic award has passed on Ra­dio­head’s OK Com­put

er, Tricky’s Max­in­quaye and The Streets’ Orig­i­nal Pi­rate Ma­te­rial among oth­ers, while re­ward­ing The Klax­ons and Speech Debelle.

The big talk­ing point this year is whether the Mer­cury peo­ple still bear a grudge against Da­mon Al­barn. When Go­ril­laz were nom­i­nated for their de­but al­bum, and then promptly in­stalled as favourites, Al­barn pulled the band out of con­tention, say­ing win­ning the Mer­cury “would be like car­ry­ing a dead al­ba­tross round your neck for eter­nity”. Al­barn’s Ev­ery­day Ro­bots solo record is, by com­mon con­sent, one of the stand­out al­bums of the year but will the Mer­cury risk an em­bar­rass­ing re­jec­tion again?

Main­stream-wise there will most likely be show­ings for Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith, but don’t rule out a nom­i­na­tion for Mor­ris­sey if only for the rea­son that he’ll prob­a­bly say some­thing hor­ri­ble about them – and the col­umn inches will fol­low.

Else­where, ex­pect to see East In­dia Youth , Chvrches and Jun­gle mak­ing the cut. The short­list will be an­nounced on Septem­ber 10th with the tele­vised fi­nal on Oc­to­ber 29th.

In truth, the Mer­cury ceased to mat­ter some­time dur­ing the 1990s but that doesn’t stop the an­nual hand-wring­ing in the me­dia over who should and who shouldn’t be nom­i­nated. Much like The X Fac­tor, re­cent years have seen more of an em­pha­sis placed on the act’s back story (the more “street” the bet­ter), which is why so many in­die acts now claim an urchin’s life of squalor and de­pri­va­tion when the re­al­ity is their fa­ther owns half of Ox­ford­shire and they were ed­u­cated at a Swiss fin­ish­ing school.

Al­barn: al­ba­tross-averse

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