The Mercury Prize 2008

Just back from the Mercury Prize shortlist announcement which, as you might imagine, was a hotbed of hype and low-level grumbling about the 12 nominations. I was doing some media-slag punditry, a lot of which revolved around the high-profile absentees: Coldplay, Duffy, The Ting Tings, Kate Nash and the one which actually annoyed me, Portishead. But before I start ranting, here’s the shortlist if you haven’t seen it yet:

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Just back from the Mercury Prize shortlist announcement which, as you might imagine, was a hotbed of hype and low-level grumbling about the 12 nominations. I was doing some media-slag punditry, a lot of which revolved around the high-profile absentees: Coldplay, Duffy, The Ting Tings, Kate Nash and the one which actually annoyed me, Portishead. But before I start ranting, here’s the shortlist if you haven’t seen it yet:



Adele – “19”
British Sea Power – “Do You Like Rock Music?”
Burial – “Untrue”
Elbow – “The Seldom Seen Kid”
Estelle – “Shine”
Laura Marling – “Alas I Cannot Swim”
Neon Neon – “Stainless Style”
Portico Quartet – “Knee-Deep In The North Sea”
Rachel Unthank & The Winterset – “The Bairns”
Radiohead – “In Rainbows”
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss – “Raising Sand”
The Last Shadow Puppets – “The Age Of The Understatement”


Given that I’ve liked and blogged about five of these, and should have blogged about a couple more (Burial and, especially, the Rachel Unthank record, which I got hooked on a bit late, but is just about my favourite here: did you know, by the way, that the Winterset’s recently-departed pianist won Stars In Your Eyes as Annie Lennox? Just sharing), it’d be churlish to whinge too much about this list.

For a start, last year’s wearying domination by indie bands on their first or second albums hasn’t been repeated. And while I would’ve happily replaced Adele, British Sea Power, Estelle, Laura Marling and the Portico Quartet with Portishead, Robert Wyatt, PJ Harvey, Wild Beasts and, with a certain grinding inevitability, James Blackshaw, at least there’s no room for the fashionably-disparaged “indie landfill” bands like The Kooks, The Wombats, The Pigeon Detectives, The Fratellis, The Courteeners, The Zutons and so on.

But – and here comes the grumble – what has been bugging me for a while is the parochialism behind the concept of the Mercury Prize. If, as we’re lead to believe, it really is an award for musical excellence rather than a marketing scam for the music business, why don’t they open up the competition to albums made anywhere in the world?

When I’m forming an opinion on a record, I don’t give a toss about where it originated, and it strikes me as a weird criteria to measure music by. Healthier, surely, would be an equivalent of America’s Shortlist Prize, which rewards the panel’s favourite record of the year, irrespective of where it came from. Surely, there’s room for an award like that in the UK, too?

But anyway, let me know what you think of the shortlist, and who you think might win. The bookmakers’ odds suggest they haven’t got a clue at this point, and I must admit I’m a bit confounded, too; after correctly predicting the winner for about three years in a row, I came a cropper last year, so perhaps the magic has left me. The story of Burial – dance music’s Mr Anonymous and so on – might be quite appealing. But I’ve also a vague hunch that, for once, one of those notionally token jazz and folk nominations – specifically Rachel Unthank – might, finally, actually win it. I’d be very pleased if it did. But, as ever, we shall see. . .

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