By now, followers of Picky Bastards know that we are a little obsessed with the Mercury Prize. It’s okay. We’re seeking help. As always, we put out our own suggestions for the list prior to this year’s nominees being announced and we will have a Mercury focused podcast for you very soon.
But, as we settle in to a period of thinking about nothing else, preparing angry tweets for when the wrong album wins in a couple of weeks, I got to thinking about my favourite winner so far. If either Self Esteem or Kojey Radical win this one, they will definitely disrupt my top ten. But, for now, the below is how it stands.
And before you come at me asking where Suede are, this is just a personal list. And Suede are shite.
- Ms. Dynamite – A Little Deeper
This album felt fresh as hell when it came out. And while it may have dated somewhat in the years since, there can no doubting that this deserved its title and was one of the early-ish winners which gave you the sense that the Mercury wasn’t about the status quo but was now rewarding albums that were innovative, unique, and without a huge prior evidence. Sometimes the judges need reminding of that, but this was one they got spot on.
- Portishead – Dummy
Some of my fellow bastards would definitely have this at number one on the list, but Portishead have always been slightly overrated. This album is very good, though. Songs such as ‘Glory Box’, ‘Roads’, ‘Sour Times’, and ‘Wandering Star’ make it a very worthy winner but what keeps it this low on my list is the fact that those highlights do soar above some of the rest of the album. It’s genre and era defining, though. A huge album.
- Elbow – Seldom Seen Kid
I’ve gone off the bombastic and overblown version of Guy Garvey that has taken over Elbow and started making songs for adverts only in recent years. That said, Seldom Seen Kid was briefly an obsession when it came out and it does still stand up. This album launched Elbow on a massive stage, gave them a platform and a huge audience, and unfortunately they used it to make songs that sound like they will soundtrack every funeral on Coronation Street for the rest of time. This album, though. This album was great. Shame that, a couple of albums down the line, they started making songs for Richard Curtis soundtracks before he’d even written the films.
- Michael Kiwanuka – KIWANUKA
The fact that this is actually only the second best Michael Kiwanuka album should tell you what a fucking juggernaut this artist is. It’s one of two albums on my list that will probably get me accused of recency by the PJ Harvey and Primal Scream heads, but songs like ‘You Ain’t The Problem’, ‘Hero’, and ‘Rolling’ are absolute timeless and prove to be classics in years to come. This album brought him the recognition he’s deserved for years.
- Dizzee Rascal – Boy In Da Corner
I wrestled over whether to include this one, given the news stories about Dizzee in the last couple of years that have entirely ruined his legacy. It’s sad, and disturbing, to see. But if I think back to when this album won, when ‘Fix Up, Look Sharp’ became the flagship song of the album that won the UK’s biggest music prize, it’s hard to ignore. I won’t listen to anything he releases again, but this was an exciting winner at the time.
- Badly Drawn Boy – The Hour Of Bewilderbeast
From one of the more controversial winners of the prize, we move to simply one of the nicest people to win any prize ever in the history of humanity. But Badly Drawn Boy is not just a nice guy. This album was a powerhouse, a mix of folky brilliance and indie originality, a combination of humour and raw talent, and a set of songs that simply made it stand out above anything else that year and the majority of other Mercury winners before or after.
- Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams
Okay. So this is probably the one people will be kicking off about in the comments. How dare I include last year’s somewhat soft and gentle winner over some of the classics that haven’t made my list? Well, remember – this is my personal list. And songs like ‘Black Dog’, ‘Hurt’, and ‘Caroline’ speak to me in a way that none of your so called masterpieces do. I love her voice, her tone, her lyrics, and the way the album melds to make a cohesive whole. Whether this will still have such a lofty position if I do this list is twenty years is questionable but, for now, it still connects with me in a way that makes it deserve this spot on my list.
- Gomez – Bring It On
This was the winner that made me start taking notice of the Mercury. Featuring a band member that was local to where I grew up, related to a friend of my family, we were already more than familiar with the joyous indie pop and soulful delivery of Gomez’s debut. But to see it take out a prize like this was phenomenal. Years down the line, the album still stands up, too. Proving the judges made the right call in 1998.
- Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
Simply one of the most invigorating debut albums of all time, years down the line and this is still by far the best Arctic Monkeys album. True stories about life as a young person in Yorkshire, told with skill, wit, and brevity. Songs to dance to, songs to cry to, songs to make you think and reminisce. They get a hard time from some quarters, and I’ll admit their catalogue is patchy as hell, but for this album alone they deserve legendary status and it would have been a crime if it hadn’t been a Mercury winner.
- The xx – xx
This album was an absolute revolution at the time it came out and, for better and worse, it has gone on to spawn a whole genre of moody singers and their plinky-plonky synths.
But to put all of that aside, this is just a stunningly gorgeous set of songs that meld effortlessly together to create a magnificent whole. Even with so many copycats, it’s still so unique. It’s an absolute masterpiece and is, for me, the best Mercury winner of all time.
Words by Fran Slater