Alt-J scoop the Mercury Prize 2012 – here’s Getintothis‘ verdict on the judges’ decision.
What have we learnt?
Bookies favourites Alt-J were the most obvious winners of the Mercury Prize since PJ Harvey, The xx and The Arctic Monkeys before them.
But unlike both those recipients, this wasn’t a foregone conclusion due to musical achievement, it was more a statement of where the prize is at – and what it’s in danger of becoming.
Alt-J‘s win is a triumph for safe, predictable and hugely underwhelming music – and the Prize is now seriously trapped in a mire of championing beige mediocrity.
That’s not to say Alt-J are rubbish, they’re not.
They’re just ok. Soundbites pre-event, declare them the new Radiohead – farcical. They’ve not the raw power of Bends-era, the experimentation of Kid A-era nor the progressive otherwordliness of In Rainbows. In fact, they are on-par with Pablo Honey-era Radiohead – average.
When Getintothis saw Alt-J for the first time, at this year’s Liverpool Sound City, we were struck by just how much buzz the band had captured – they packed out the Kazimier (you could barely move) but what transpired was 40 minutes of reserved, minimal mundanity. Perhaps the least sexual gig we’ve ever been to. It was about as rock and roll as an accountants wet dream.
Bereft of charisma, the hooks of Breezeblocks and the urgent percussive elements of an Awesome Wave were reduced to tired clicks leaving us to think this was a triumph of thought over rock and roll. They recalled Wild Beasts but minus all the drama and tension. They teased but didn’t put out. And that’s always a disappointment.
But let’s not belittle Alt-J too much. For it’s not their fault their good-ish debut has been catapulted beyond merit.
Nope – for that lies squarely at the Mercury judges. The faceless entities are getting used to handing out the Prize to safe recipients – some of those mentioned above we can handle – but it’s the shortlist as a wider talking point which is becoming dull.
Once again, the token jazz dudes (Roller Trio), the solo folk minstrel (Sam Lee) and the token old swinger (Richard Hawley) left empty handed leaving us once again questioning their inclusion.
Does the Prize have to have one jazz act? If it’s about raising the profile and diversity of the prize, why not have 11 jazz acts and one ‘pop’ act?
But more depressing is the inclusion of Field Music, Maccabees, Alt-J and Django Django – all from the same (ish) fields, all making fairly decent music – but none making world beating belters which cry out for a shortlist inclusion.
The same argument can be levelled at Michael Kiwanuka, Ben Howard and Lianne La Havas – although, we’d argue that’s tilting towards Samaritan level of depression.
And it’s their inclusion which reduces the Prize to a state of near-coma-inducing dullness. Where is the electronic music? Where is the wide-ranging hip hop? Where is the dance music? And what on earth does a UK band making heavy music have to do to EVER receive a nomination?
In our minds, only Jessie Ware, the aforementioned Hawley and Plan B offered anything out of the ordinary. And it says something that in the times we live in only Ben Drew has the courage to make a state of the nation address about Cameron’s Britain. If you’ve yet to see it, get hold of a copy of his accompanying Ill Manors film – it’s fearless film-making.
Getintothis has written umpteen times about how it enjoys the Mercury – and come to think of it, most music awards – they’re talking points, sometimes recognise music which is worth shouting about and most of the time simply fun – which is what it’s all about.
However, the Mercury is losing sight of much of what made it distinct from the other fluff – singling out musical excellence from all of Britain’s rich musical tapestry.
For a more appropriate Mercury list check this out.
PJ Harvey wins the Mercury Prize 2011 – what have we learnt?
A Getintothis reflection on the nominees for the 2011 Mercury Prize
The Getintothis Predictometer for the Barclaycard Mercury Prize 2011
Getintothis on the Mercury’s 2010 and why common sense prevailed.
Getintothis on the Mercury’s in 2009… and reaction.
Getintothis on the Mercury’s in 2008.
Getintothis on the Mercury’s in 2007 – why bother? and 2007’s worthy winners, not that we were arsed.