Nationwide Mercury Music Prize: Why Bother?


The Nationwide Mecury Music Prize has always been a preferable option to the hoards of back-slapping and self-aggrandising alternative award shows in the British music calender. So why’s 2007’s list so utterly woeful?

I’ve always enjoyed the Mercury Music Prize. It’s rock’s equivalent of the Newsnight Review; pretentious judges slumped around swish glass tables um-ing and ah-ing about the finer points while attempting to out-do each other with their usage of the English Language.
Usually you’ll find Miranda Sawyer, all curled lip and furrowed brow, reasoning why grindie is more relevant than indie, John Harris cloaked in crushed velvet and buried beneath a mane of Mancunian locks and then there’ll be Queen Bee Jo Whiley decked out in a ridiculously OTT ball gown sucking on a biro while picking at her bare feet.
It’s a preposterously overblown affair – but there’s simply no doubting those taking part in the grandiose pageant know their stuff.
This is no Brits were oafish DJs are encouraged to act like drunken baboons on stage or D-list divas attempt to hog the limelight by exposing their left nipple. No, The Mercury’s is all about presenting the creme de la creme of British music – and to be fair they usually do.
Sure there’s been plenty of past winners who have faded into obscurity, indeed collecting the £20,000 cheque has been somewhat of a poisoned chalice down the years – Talvin Singh anyone? – but there’s no doubting it’s been dished out to some mighty fine winners. Who’s to argue with Primal Scream, Arctic Monkeys, Pulp, PJ Harvey and indeed 2005’s brave selection of Antony & The Johnsons.
So why, have the judges failed us so miserably this year? Surely 2006-7 hasn’t been that bad for British talent?
Firstly selecting two previous winners – Arctic Monkeys and Dizzee Rascal – is a kop out. Sure they’re both good records, but for an award created to recognise new talent, these two surely don’t need the accolade again.
Then there’s the nu-rave hipsters Klaxons and New Young Pony Club; the former I can stomach and their selection is no surprise but the latter are coat-tail hangers-on with barely two good singles on a record which is wafer thin in the ideas department.
Even further short of ideas are The View and Young Knives – surely representing the two ends of the same spectrum that is white boys with guitars. The former, Brattish post-Libertines scallywags who are a fine singles band but nowt spesh, the latter the last kids to be picked for the football team; all tight jackets, jerky angular post-punkisms with crap hair.
Amy Winehouse, I suppose was a given and she’ll bring some much-needed personality to the whole affair while Jamie T I can take or leave; he’s the Just Jack it’s cool to like.
I’ll hold my hand up and confess to knowing little about Bella Union folky Fionn Regan or Seb Rochford’s Basquiat Strings. But it does seem odd that Roachford has been nominated having already secured a berth in 2005’s shortlist for post-jazz noodlers Polar Bear. These two fill the predictable slot reserved every year for ‘the two you’ve never heard of.’
So that leaves us with only two I’m vaguely arsed about: Maps and Bats For Lashes. Faceless Northampton-based musician James Chapman (aka Maps) produces gorgeous waves of electronic pop weaving in rich textures of My Bloody Valentine, Spacemen 3 and even Tangerine Dream. Bat For Lashes’ Natasha Khan, meanwhile, is a genuine pop star; sporting a gold headband and a feathered head-dress, she’s a hippy princess conjuring up fantastical imagery alongside magical twee folk. It’s Bjork meets Vashti Bunyan.
If either of these two win – and they won’t – I’d be chuffed, but as it is the judges have missed a wealth of better options; Patrick Wolf, The Aliens, Bloc Party, Electrelane, Jesu, Candie Payne, Gruff Rhys, 65daysofstatic, Twilight Sad, Fields
Thank God they missed off The Twang.
The nominees:
Arctic Monkeys‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’
Klaxons‘Myths Of The Near Future’
Amy Winehouse‘Back To Black’
Maps‘We Can Create’
The View‘Hats Off To The Buskers’
Jamie T‘Panic Prevention’
Dizzee Rascal‘Maths & English’
Bat For Lashes‘Fur And Gold’
Young Knives‘Voices of Animals And Men’
Fionn Regan‘The End Of History’
New Young Pony Club‘Fantastic Playroom’
Basquiat Strings‘Basquiat Strings’
The Nationwide Mercury Prize winner for 2007 will be announced at a ceremony in London’s Grosvenor House Hotel on September 4.