The Mercury Music Prize, whether you’re British or otherwise, is commonly recognised as one of the awards that actually means something. It was set up as an alternative to the Brit Awards, the UK’s glittery Grammy equivalent, or a celeb-fest with an audience of screamers if you’re more cynical. The Mercury Music Prize labels itself as the “music equivalent to the Booker Prize for literature and the Turner Prize for art”, an indication of its high-brow self worth.
It’s fair to say the Mercury Music Prize has picked some pretty awesome albums since its inception in 1992. The inaugural award went to Primal Scream for Screamadelica. Portishead won in 1995 for the breathtaking Dummy, Gomez in 1998 for the fabulous Bring It On and the award blasted Elbow into a whole new level of global fame off the back of its release of The Seldom Seen Kid. Other winners include Suede, Pulp, Arctic Monkeys, PJ Harvey and more recently alt-J and James Blake. There is no question for me that those judging this thing have some bloody great taste, and it’s always heartening to be reminded that the homeland is continuing to produce music of the very highest calibre.
In case you don’t know, each year, 12 albums are short-listed for the prize by a judging panel of music industry people, and generally they’re all bloody fantastic. Quite how they choose a winner is beyond me because the field is always filled with such varied genres. There can be, though, only one winner.
Picking that winner for 2014 will be no less challenging than it has been in previous years, with another eclectic dozen of artists listed plucked from the initial 250 entrants, seven of them in the mix with debut albums. After criticism for picking out established artists, the panel of judges have gone for some newer faces this year, but in a year that has to date produced some quite spectacular new works, that’s not such a surprise to me. It’s been a great year for new music, not just in Britain but globally.
Here are the nominees and a line from me on what I think of the tunes they deliver:
Anna Calvi – One Breath: A super record, in the mould of PJ Harvey or St Vincent. Not my favourite on the list, but well worth your time and certainly a stunning debut.
Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow: Perhaps my favourite on the list, but I’m a long time fan of these guys. They’ve changed it up a bit for this, their fourth release, and in a very positive way. It’s indie pop, with an edge, and I’ve always thought the Club had a unique sound. Perhaps the prize would alert the rest of the world to their talents.
Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots: We all love Damon. His debut solo effort is more Gorillaz than Blur, but as good as anything those two projects produced. But is it different enough to make it stand out? Not for me.
East India Youth – Total Strife Forever: At first listen, it’ll pique your interest, and William Doyle certainly has talent to burn when it comes to electronica. Grates a little as an album for me, but individually, the tracks can be awesome if the right mood strikes, and I’m not even a techno fan.
FKA twigs – LP1: One of the best records you’ll hear this year, perhaps ever. This is something truly different, mesmerising on every level and utterly absorbing.
Jungle – Jungle: Funky, fresh and fun, with some killer grooves that will have your butt wiggling. There is a hint of The Go! Team at times, but without the same delirious energy. Roll the windows down this summer, though, and blast this out to the world.
Young Fathers – Dead: Perhaps my least favourite on the list. It’s hip-hoppy, but fails to take off for me at any point. Lyrically, it’s great, but rhythmically, it didn’t land a punch for me.
Kate Tempest – Everybody Down: I’ve got a soft spot for Kate, because she’s from Brockley, South London, where I grew up. From rapping on the night bus, she’s now set to win a big prize, and deservedly so. He rhymes are magnificent, delivered with wondrous skill. Storytelling has never been so damn cool. Trust me.
GoGo Penguin – v2.0: It’s great to hear jazz with a modern twist, and these three lads deliver that in spades. Drummer Rob Turner has exceptional feel, which holds it all together from start to finish, but the compositions are super lovely.
Nick Mulvey – First Mind: Folk with a tribal twist, Mulvey has a fine record on his hands here. Studied in Cuba, studied Africa, and it all comes through here. He’s been nominated before with Portico Quartet, and his solo tilt is fully deserving of the same honour.
Polar Bear – In Each and Every One: More slightly off-kilter jazz here, but it lacks the sophistication of GoGo Penguin. Still, it’s interesting if not spectacular, and at times sounds like a tune-up.
Royal Blood – Royal Blood: Rock out time to finish things off. This has hallmarks of Muse, Jack White, and a Tom Morello guitar tones at times. It’s a toe-tapper for sure, and will have heads banging everywhere it’s played.