Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Mercury Music Prize - What Exactly Is An Album Of The Year ?

Every year following the announcement of the Mercury music prize the internet is full of chatter about how the nominations are wrong and who should have been featured and who shouldn’t have been.

Let’s take some examples. “Very funny, where’s the real list,” wrote Eltham on the Drowned in Sound Message Board. “God, with maybe the exception of 2 albums, the Mercury Prize nominations are just F’ing awful,” tweeted @quiksnowboard7 – we can only assume that he has listened to each album on the list and given them enough time to decide that they are as awful as suggested. “Adele is such a SNORE. Isn't the Mercury Prize meant to reward good, innovative music? How is she all that? Urgh,” wrote Mirroronthewall commenting on the Guardian website. Then there was Tim Chester of the NME, who blogged shortly after “the pressence of Elbow and PJ Harvey displays a lack of imagination.”

And that’s the problem. What is an album of the year ? One that moves the boundaries of music forward in a bold way ? One that receives critical but not necessarily public adoration ? One that moves you emotionally ? One that represents the zeitgeist ? One that challenges and experiments ? Or a combination of all of these things, the one that the judging panel, each with their own opinions, preferences and criteria come to a consensus is the best?

This last option seems the most likely, which means that the Mercury prize is to a certain extent always going to involve some degree of compromise along the way. It’s the reason why the likes of M People and Speech Debelle have come up trumps in the past and the reason why those who proclaim ‘so and so should have been on the list’ do so –because ultimately everybody is making a qualitative judgement and when those judgements are thrown in a pot together you’ll never get consistency or the ‘right’ answer to suit everyone. Sometimes the choices will be too mainstream, sometimes more leftfield, as the judges change from year to year. A nomination is just the top slice of the bell curve of the mode of the judge’s choices. The fuzziness of the judging criteria and the selection by panel always means that the resultant list has a danger of being similar to the Brit Awards album of the year, as so called innovative albums can be pushed to the side easily – less likely to find the middle ground of acceptance that committees and panels generally reach as a conclusion.

A survey by Breaking More Waves of twitter and internet message boards this lunch time revealed that there were at least 20 other albums that ‘should’ have been included on the list and included Gold Panda, Hurts, DELS, Admiral Fallow, Arctic Monkeys, Noah and The Whale, Radiohead, Magnetic Man, The Unthanks, Radiohead, SBTRKT, Bellowhead and most particularly Wild Beasts who ended up trending on twitter due to their omission. As one @Getintothis tweeted “Lots of angry music journalists spotted boarding the number 57 bus out of Kendal.”

So if the Mercury music prize isn’t going to be acceptable to everyone and if, by its nomination process it is in danger of simply replicating the Brits, does it really have a purpose? Leigh from Just Music That I Like blog made some valid points today on Twitter. “I fail to see its worth, other than popularizing some already popular acts,” he wrote and suggested that maybe the Mercury should be an award than champions good new acts rather than Elbow, PJ Harvey and Adele who hardly need the extra sales the Mercury nomination may generate for them.

The Mercury is a great tool to demonstrate to the world how for a small country the UK produces a significant number of highly creative and talented artists that have made some brilliant albums, but does the end output actually differ in any way from the Brits anymore ? And if it doesn’t, is it time to re-think or even kill the prize?

Here’s some music from one of the more unknown acts on the list, someone who we predicted would bag a nomination back in April here – Ghostpoet. You can find the full list of nominees here.

Ghostpoet - Cash & Carry Me Home (feat. Kano) by ghostpoet

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