The Mercury prize is always something for pop fans to become excited about, it has become something akin to the Turner prize or the Man Booker for music in its celebration of artistically valid British work that manages to break into the mainstream. The one winner from each year’s shortlist of ten or so albums is always entreated to a huge sales boost and generally manages to find a wider audience through the exposure. In recent years Elbow finally managed to take the spotlight after winning for The Seldom Seen Kid in 2008; their sales shot up by 700% and this year they opened for U2 at Glastonbury. On the other side of the spectrum though is Speech Dabelle. After walking away with the prize for her (admittedly lacklustre) debut Speech Therapy, Dabelle struggled to find a niche for her fusion of Jazz and Hip-Hop with her sales barely improving. It was reported last year that she performed a gig in front of just 40 people and the win has actually been credited for her subsequent retreat from the music industry.
That wasn’t the first Mercury upset, Roni Size’s New Forms was declared superior to Ok Computer in 1997, but this year offers less chance of a really exciting surprise. As interesting as the work of Ghostpoet and King Creosote is,they are unlikely to topple the favourites. The shortlist is composed of many of this year’s most talked about and well received albums, Let England Shake gets a thoroughly well deserved nod, though as with Elbow’s Build A Rocket Boys! Many would consider the chances of a past winner to be severely lowered, even if this is PJ Harvey’s best work since she won a decade ago with the sublime Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea.
This morning though nobody was discussing the shortlist. Far more troubling for most than the inclusion of Everything Everything was the omission of The Horrors (should have won in 2009),Yuck, and most implausibly, Wild Beasts. It is by no means the album of the year but with Smother Wild Beasts have excelled at creating a truly original, dramatic Indie record as intimate as anything you’ll hear this year.
Of course for many the drama and emotion of pop music is epitomised by Adele. It is no shock that 21 is the world’s highest selling album in 2011, it has been a phenomenon. Her singles are both startlingly powerful and universal, but a cynic could suggest that her success really comes only from the fantastic PR team behind her. Either way, the fact that she has sold over six million units means that despite being is the bookies favourite, she probably won’t win. She doesn’t need to, and the award could much better be used to help a smaller artist conquer.
One could probably write off Tinie Tempah’s multiple Brit award winning Disc-Overy too, for the very reason that the rapper did so well at the Brits. Mercury was designed as an alternative to the very consumer friendly Brit Awards, and while Tempah’s album is deserving of its critical plaudits it remains defiantly pop, a drawback for the judges. They far prefer to credit a flourishing genre. In 2002 Garage had its credibility confirmed by Ms. Dynamite’s win, and the same thing happened for Grime a year later when Dizzee Rascal won the award at 17 for his debut Boy In Da Corner.
Could now be the time for Dubstep? Mercury flirted with the genre in 2007 when Burial was nominated for the magnificent Untrue and this year two picks come from the genre, though both twist it somewhat. Katy B’s Katy On A Mission is the mainstream choice, using Dubstep as a starting point to incorporate several elements of dance and creating pitch perfect pop songs in the process. Many tracks even feature Ms. Dynamite, though the record does lack the weight to make it a truly worthy winner.
The man to take the mantle then must be James Blake. He comes from a dubstep background though his experimental style has involved his Anthony & The Johnsons-like voice to stirring affect on his eponymous debut. James Blake is a fascinating record, tracks flirting with an almost Nina Simone Jazz tune are interpolated with a subtle wub and wobble. This pick would validate Dubstep, satisfy the critics and recognise one of this year’s most heavily discussed records.
And better that than the fucking Vaccines.