Mercury Music Prize – sack the judges who chose this boring shortlist

So next week (Oct 30th) sees the Barclaycard Mercury Prize award ceremony. The prize “exists solely to champion music in the UK, mainly through the ‘Albums of the Year’ competition, which celebrates recorded music of all genres by British or Irish artists”.

 “Of all genres” has led in the past to a somewhat eccentric choice of short-listed albums, including the odd (and I do mean odd) modern classical, free-form jazz or experimental dance artist. But that was what gave the award its charm and identity – it wasn’t just another Brits Awards going to the biggest selling and most commercial artists.

And over the years, the Mercury provided me with a range of interesting artists, generally new, that I hadn’t heard of or considered listening to.  Looking back at previous nominations, I believe that they introduced me to the Wild Beasts, Villagers, Sweet Billy Pilgrim, I am Kloot, King Creoste, Rachel Unthank, Field Music... etc.  Much appreciated.

Now there would usually be two or three albums each year that frankly I found almost unlistenable – but hey, if Polar Bear want to make a “mix of cool jazz, funk, dance music, free jazz, electronica and drum and bass”, it’s a free country, and I’m glad I at least know a bit about them courtesy of the 2005 short list.

So this year’s list is intensely disappointing, and at the very least needs to make someone (the sponsors?) think about appointing a new judging panel. (Yes, I’ll volunteer). It is an incredibly conservative, predictable, boring and unimaginative list, with not a single choice that makes me go “wow” or “who”? And we don't want to be ageist but is a 67 year old Chair of the judging panel appropriate? Might that explain the conservatism?

Now that’s not to criticise the albums themselves. I own more than half of them, and like all of those I don’t own. But it’s almost a complete map to the best selling UK rock albums of the year (outside the One Dimension world) plus some previous nominees such as the Villagers and James Blake again with second albums that are fine but certainly no better than their debuts.  It has the look of a list that was put together during a 20 minute GoTo Meeting between busy people.

Each choice is fine in itself, but the overall effect is dull, dull, dull. No classical, no folk (Villagers are NOT folk), no jazz, no metal, the “dance” element is limited to Disclosure and Rudimental, both highly mainstream. And really, Jake Bugg’s album wouldn’t have had a hope of getting on the list if he hadn’t been so young.

Where are the brilliant F*** Buttons with Slow Focus or Public Service Broadcasting whose eponymous album is one of the most innovative albums for years and very enjoyable?  Drowned in Sound, the excellent music website, feels the same as me and have come up with their Neptune award – and a far more interesting and challenging list, with Daughter, Hookworms, Factory Floor and other really interesting bands. And why no Peace with In Love, the best new "indie" album of the year by a street? What about the metal / psychedelic revival - Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats or Charlie Boyer and the Voyeurs would have lived up the list.

But back to the Mercury. Who will win next Wednesday? Well, the last few years has tended to see the favourites win more often than not, so Disclosure may well continue that trend. At less than 3-1 with the bookies it's not great value however. They’re clearly very talented young guys, although their mix and match dance thing is not quite my taste, but they’re huge with the 14-25 year old demographic, which would probably suit the sponsors.

Personally, I hope Laura Marling triumphs. It’s her fourth tremendous album, and probably, all in all, her best so far. She’s a genius, and still deserves to be better known globally. 8-1 seems pretty generous odds...

I believe David Bowie is up there with McCartney as the UK’s greatest living songwriter / musician, (just ahead of Ray Davies, Elton John, and Jagger / Richards), and The Next Day is very impressive. But giving the prize to an artist for what is, I’d argue, the 8th best album of their career? Surely not.

Laura Mvula is the second favourite now – another major talent, great voice, but it’s just all a bit too restrained and bloodless for me. Pleasant All Bar One / hairdresser background music, and I can’t see it as a winner.

If there is an outsider, I would go for Savages – a powerful and uncompromising  collection of punk / Goth songs from the all female band.  If the judges want to shock us, that would do it. But I suspect it is between Disclosure, Bowie and Marling.

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