Current Magazine

The Mercury Prize 2012: Too Close to Call, Say Critics, but Still Boring

Posted on the 20 September 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
Alt-J is nominated for the Mercury. Alt-J is nominated for the Mercury.

The background

It’s that time of year again: There’s a chill in the air, the nights are getting longer and the music world is feverishly discussing this year’s Barclaycard Mercury Prize nominations. The competition, the Brit Awards’ cooler and more pretentious older sibling, promises a £20,000 prize to the UK’s ‘album of the year’. The nominations were announced on 12 September and the winner will be revealed on the 1 November.

This year’s nominees are:

Alt-J – An Awesome Wave
Ben Howard – Every Kingdom
Django Django – Django Django
Field Music – Plumb
Jessie Ware – Devotion
Lianne La Havas – Is Your Love Big Enough?
The Maccabees – Given to the Wild
Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again
Plan B – Ill Manors
Richard Hawley – Standing at the Sky’s Edge
Roller Trio – Roller Trio
Sam Lee – Ground of Its Own

Too close to call

Last week’s announcement was met with much discussion of the merits and shortcomings of the shortlist as a whole. Gordon Smart of the Sun described the competition for this year’s prize as the “closest yet”, and given the bookmaker’s frequently changing favourites, that sounds accurate. Simon Frith, the chairmen of the Mercury judging panel, seemed to agree and argued that “the past 12 months had produced no records with an obvious claim on the list”. Indeed, Anita Singh of the Telegraph reported that Frith “admitted he had never heard of some of the acts until his fellow judges suggested them for the list”.

But still uninspiring

A closely-run race is always entertaining, but some critics have argued that this actually reflects the past year’s arguable failure to produce an outstanding British album. Priya Elan of Grazia argued that only Ware, Django Django and Plan B’s work could be considered “ground breaking or Mercury Prize worthy”. Similarly, Neil McCormick of the Telegraph retorted that this year’s had been met with a collective critical “meh”, suggesting that an American Mercury Price would be more interesting.

With all that in mind, here’s an insight into some of the more hotly-tipped nominees…

  • Alt-J. The Cambridge four-piece are named after an Apple keyboard shortcut to make a delta symbol (∆) and have been hyped as the “next Radiohead”. Their art-rock debut An Awesome Wave was described by Grazia music blogger Priya Elan as a combination of “folk, rock and indie influences with electric synth riffs” which “create a signature trip-hop sound”. Ass Enjoli Liston of the Independent  reported, Alt J were actually “odds-on favorite to win it before the nominations were even announced”. Indeed, Sam Wolfson of the Guardian named them ‘the most successful new British band of the year’ way back in August. So, no pressure then…
  • Plan B. The British rapper-cum-singer’s soundtrack to his film of the same name, Ill Manors, was described by the Mercury judges as a “brilliantly visceral soundtrack to an angry, troubling and harsh picture of life on the underside of London in 2012.” Plan B is the most well-known and commercially-successful of the nominees (he hit number one with Ill Manors back in July). But chart success often fails to relate to a Mercury win, and when asked by the NME whether he thought this might hinder his chances, he said that it “probably” would”, but argued that his album was “good enough to be part of this”.
  •  Richard Hawley. Hawley is the only veteran Mercury nominee on this year’s list, and his latest offering has been met with critical acclaim. Alexis Petridis of the Guardian gave the album five stars, and praised Hawley for finding a new artistic direction with Standing at the Sky’s Edge, while still unmistakably imbuing it with himself: ‘The same, but different: a tough trick, pulled off in style’. But can he achieve what he failed to back in 2006, when he was nominated for his album Coles Corner?
  • Jesse Ware. Ware is one of only two female artists nominated this year, along with Lianne La Havas. The NME gave her debut album Devotion  8 out of 10 and celebrated it for containing “moments that bring you to your knees”.Friends and fellow nominees The Macabees have tipped Ware for the prize.

More in music

  • The Killers’ fun but dated Battle Born
  • The xx are back
  • Is Latitude the new Glastonbury?

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog

Paperblog Hot Topics