Mercury Music Prize: Reaction

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Perhaps the most shocking aspect about Elbow’s Mercury triumph last night is that it’s not shocking at all.


Yes, indeed, you’ll find no disgruntled reaction from this keyboard, for The Seldom Seen Kid is a work of undeniable lyrical beauty, instrumental power and emotional richness.
Three elements central to all great records, and the Bury bunch’s fourth record has it in spades.
Weeks ago when we offered 12 alternative choices for the Prize; XFM DJ John Hillcock rightly argued that Elbow deserved being on any list irrespective of exposure and coverage and I chipped in in agreement, for along with Laura Marling and Burial – these were exceptional nominees equally worthy of lifting the prize – that Elbow did, made it even more satisfactory (and somewhat surprising given the Mercury’s want for throwing up the unpredictable; M People anyone?) given their unfathomable outsider status which has loomed over their career since day one.
The decision to pick Elbow almost serves as an industry double-bluff. For Burial and Marling fulfil the leftfield zeitgeist – a move sometimes associated with the Mercury, while Elbow merely represent – albeit on the surface – just another band. But Elbow have never been just another band.
Indeed, last night’s win only serves to highlight the quite stupefying question as to why Elbow haven’t lifted the Prize in earlier years, such is their almost unparalleled consistency in their white-men-with-guitars field.
Perhaps, herein lies the answer. Elbow haven’t ever been just grumpy Northerners with guitars. And never have they played the swaggering, gobby upstarts in keeping with other North West hotshots.
Elbow have always been a band where substance far outweighs style. Trend certainly isn’t in their varied vocabulary. And as for Cool Lists – ha!
No, the band have never played up to stereotypes, if anything they’ve subverted the mould, with chief Elbower Guy Garvey consciously accentuating his lyrical prowess with every record; no ‘high/sky/why/fly’ rhyming duffness in his songbook.
Garvey’s lyrics paint a myriad of stories, characters and situations; many of them dark and profoundly furrowed of brow but containing enough wry smiles and kitchen sink laughs to always touch the soul and connect both with the head and heart.
And musically, they’ve never been afraid to experiment, fervently refusing to pigeonhole themselves – indeed second single Power Blue from 2001’s Asleep In The Back featured a bleak sax solo amid gothic ambience more associated with the cracked drones of Talk Talk than the scraping the barrel left overs from the decline of Britpop which smeared the then indie landscape.
Push forward seven years, and this attention to detail – both in language and sound – has culminated in their greatest achievement yet – The Seldom Seen Kid; (A Getintothis LP of the Week back in April) a work which unravels like a classic novel and grows in resonance with each repeat spin.
A record which is a fitting winner of this year’s Mercury and one which if you’ve yet to invest in, deserves your immediate and undivided attention.

One Day Like This at Glastonbury 2008.

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