Monday, September 15, 2008

Absolutely the Final Word on the Mercury Prize

Vague apologies for my absence from here lately; I’ve had a busy couple of weeks. Thankfully, you probably didn’t notice, and the people who posted between my last entry and this are better writers than me anyway.


A colleague at my dayjob previously worked in marketing for Nationwide, and was involved with their relationship with the Mercury Music Prize. It was, I imagine, a pretty thankless task in many ways; simply the fact that the Mercury Prize is still named after its initial sponsor (the now long defunct Mercury Communications) and seldom referred to as the Nationwide mercury Music Prize has got to make representing the building society’s interests and representation difficult.

His involvement was at its highest in 2005, when Anthony & The Johnsons won; my colleague was pretty pleased, having got a copy of I Am A Bird Now through his involvement, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Nationwide as an entity was not so happy, though; how the hell were they meant to market their involvement with a predominantly mainstream British music prize where the winner was a gender-ambiguous New Yorker with a voice too extraordinary for most people to deal with? It’s noticable that subsequent winners have been far more brand-friendly…

Not least of all Elbow, whose Seldom Seen Kid I like a lot; they’ve been around the block, amassed critical acclaim but never really record sales, and are identifiable as the kind of remaining-men-together band-as-gang unit that so appeals to a certain kind of music fan. In short, they’re deserving. And they made a terrifically heart-warming acceptance spectacle – “this is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to us” quotes abounding, wine glasses (rather than lager sleevers or powder-dappled mirrors) held aloft alongside trophies, enormous grins – it was like watching a long-striving athlete hit Olympic gold after years of almost-nearly-theres.

Which is why Burial, despite being the bookies’ favourite, never stood a cat in hell’s chance; even though he confirmed his identity via his Myspace page in early August following months of speculation, he wouldn’t have turned up for the ceremony anymore than Banksy would turn up for the Turner Prize, and Nationwide would take to a no-show even less well than they’d take to Anthony Hegarty.

The thing is, I’m not sure I’m glad that Elbow won. Yes, I like the album, and yes, they’re probably consistently one of my favourite bands of this decade, but I’d like to think that the Mercury Prize any music prize that promotes itself as being purely about the music (maaaaan) wouldn’t be both so obviously in thrall to its sponsors and so content to award the most deserving, as opposed to the most brilliant. Because even though I can pragmatically accept the politic behind both those compromises in integrity, I also don’t think that Elbow are the best way to fully assuage them.

Which is to say that, firstly, I think the shortlist was poor (although a massive improvement on last year’s), and secondly, if one is going to pick the most deserving, then really pick the most deserving, and throw it Rachel Unthank’s way. But I can say that; I picked up The Bairns the day before nominations were revealed, following a trip-off from a certain fellow author of this blog (and costing myself about £4 more than waiting three days would have), and thus can write-off increased interest due to merely being nominated.

I’m blathering a little. But that’s what blogs are for, perhaps. Regardless, if I were a betting man, I’d nip down Ladbrokes and place a couple of bets; on Keegan being the next Newcastle United manager again, and on Glasvegas being bookies favourite for next year’s Mercury Prize. But not wining it. I hope. Which is to say that I have heard Glasvegas, and did not enjoy it one little bit. They’re like a rubbish Twilight Sad, who didn’t get nominated in 2007.

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