Music isn’t a competition. But competition makes for damn good conversation.
And it would have made for fascinating listening to have been a fly on the wall when those perculiar Mercury Prize judges pondered the finer details of this year’s contenders.
Having had time to digest, consider and reconsider their characteristically irregular verdict, I’m still at a loss as to quite how Speech Debelle‘s Speech Therapy – decent record, though it is – managed to scupper the hopes of most of the nominees – and not least Bat For Lashes‘ Two Suns.
A record, which not only improves on Natasha Khan‘s stunning debut Fur And Gold (also Mercury listed) but showcases her versatility as one of the leading and most fascinating women in pop – quite an achievement given the staggering array of movers and shakers in this most bloated of fashions.
Whatever the reason, the triumphant Miss Debelle will do well to equal, let alone better her contemporary’s spectacular showcase next time she tours these parts.
Khan may well bring with her almost each and every instrument and trinket which features on her two longplayers but her delivery of those tracks are taken to an altogether higher plain when she barefoots it into the live arena.
On record Horse and I sounds somewhat withdrawn, with the haunt reined in, here it’s delivered with maximum bombast; all galloping military thunder as Khan offers a staggering, she-wolf howl. Trophy, so delicate and enveloped in brushed percussion and subtle keys is transformed into a Bjork beat feast with clanging, murderous bells, her arms flailing, Nick Cave-like, ushering in the reaper’s scythe.
Best of all Sleep Alone has a menacing sexual grind, slithering on it’s bass-heavy belly delightfully at odds with Natasha’s liquid calls of ‘lonely, lonely, lonely…‘
So much of Bat For Lashes’ winning mechanics is down to her well-oiled backroom staff; former Ash string-bender Charlotte Hatherley ably swaps metallic guitar for toy bells and keys while singer-songwriter Ben Christophers is the personification of calm – statuesque whether plucking on harpsichord, thrumming his Gibson or clattering addition drums. Then there’s the string section and an assortment multi-instrumentalists layering the affair into a cinematic wash of highly charged emotion.
Big songs – namely Glass (perhaps tonight’s ultimate standout), Siren Song and Daniel – are the beneficiaries of such a plethora of performers as the Academy glistens in vivid reds and purples like a gothic Rodgers and Hammerstein production.
She returns, albeit briefly, with a chirruping Prescilla, all wonky piano and skipperty-skip vocal, before waving, smiling and vanishing into the mist. The bar has been raised.
Bat For Lashes: Daniel (live at 89.3 The Current)
Bat For Lashes: Glass (live at Bowery Ballroom)
* Photos courtesy of Sakura at http://www.rockphotographer.net