We’re weirdly obsessed with the Mercury Prize here at Picky Bastards. I don’t know why. But we are.
There are a million other music prizes out there, but we don’t even talk about any of them – let alone dedicate an episode of the podcast (with another on the way), an article discussing our hopes for shortlisting, and, now, a Coming Up Feature to them. But why?
Why am I writing an article about a prize that gave the title to Elbow’s Seldom Seen Kid instead of Radiohead’s In Rainbows (otherwise known as the best album of all time), twice nominated Kate Tempest without giving her the prize she deserved, and, just last year, chose the most forgettable (if not the worst) album from its list of twelve?
Well, because I am. Alright? Because for every Wolf Alice like winner, there has been a Dizzee Rascal. For every M People, there’s been a Portishead. And because deserving winners such as Gomez, Young Fathers, The XX, Badly Drawn Boy, and Roni Size have seen their careers go from strength to strength on the back of winning the prize. When the judges get it right, it can be the launchpad to a long career and the recognition an artist has deserved for a very long time.
(Another reason I’m writing about the Mercury Prize is because my plans to write this Coming Up feature about the new Bon Iver album were scuppered when he released it three weeks early. The beautiful bastard.)
So how about this year’s list? As mentioned above, we’ll be doing a podcast episode about this year’s prize when the time gets a little nearer, so I’m going to be careful what I say today. But I can say that this year’s list has more winners that I’d be happy with than any other year I remember. Usually, when the shortlist I’ve been waiting for rears its head, I find that I’ve never even heard of the majority of the nominees. Not so this time. Other than SEED Ensemble, I was familiar with all of them. And on top of that unknown, the only ones I hadn’t listened to were Black Midi, NAO, Cate Le Bon, and The 1975.
Anyone who follows the podcast will know that I’m no fan of Anna Calvi’s The Hunter and that while I saw some promise in Dave’s Psychodrama, I didn’t exactly sing praise from the rooftops.
But that leaves us with IDLES’s Joy As An Act of Resistance, Little Simz’s Grey Area, Fontaines D.C. and their imperious Dogrel, Slowthai’s stunning There’s Nothing Great About Britain, and one of the albums that most surprised me with its brilliance this year, All That is Not Saved Will Be Lost by Foals. (All links in this paragraph go to somewhere I’ve discussed the album mentioned.)
That’s five (count them) albums that I have been raving about ever since I heard them for the first time. Five albums that wouldn’t disappoint me as Mercury winner. Five albums I’ll be rooting for when I sit down in front of the BBC’s bang average coverage of the awards show with WhatsApp open, ready to tell the rest of the Picky Bastards editors why the judges have got it so wrong.
And they will; I’m almost sure of that. Come September 19th, it’ll be Anna Calvi or Dave who take the stage and I’ll be moaning like a dying animal and swearing to give the prize a wide berth in 2020.
But I won’t, of course. Because you can always rely on the Mercury to shine a spotlight on an artist that has not yet gained the following they should have, or to highlight the triumphant return of a band that you’d almost forgotten. They’ve done these things in spades this year.
I’ll need to pick my favourite before I get together with the rest of editors to record the podcast. That won’t be easy. I love all five of the albums I mentioned above and am excited to spend some time with Black Midi and Cate Le Bon. It’s a wide-open year as far as I’m concerned, and that only makes it more exciting. Let’s hope they pick their winner from the right half of the shortlist this time.
Words by Fran Slater.