Wednesday 20 July 2011

Just How HOT (Ba Dum...) Are The 2011 MERCURY Prize Nominees (...Tisch)?

Ooh, look, Elbow got a nomi-- SUDDEN URGE
As anyone with a passing interest in music or a twitter account will likely have noted, yesterday saw not only Rupert Murdoch get a cream pie in the face, but also the announcement of the nominees for this year's Mercury Prize. As ever, from the second they were announced, much discussion (i.e. bitching and whining) was sparked - so here's my by-no-means-definitive two cents:

OK, first off I have a big confession to make, which might shock most of you. As out of the loop as it makes me feel, I have to admit that I have no bloody idea who Gwilym Simcock is. All jokes aside, this is obviously the 'token' out-there classical/world/jazz entry and has very little chance of winning, but check out the snippet of 'These Are The Good Days' on the Mercury website and - well, it sounds quite nice doesn't it?

Adele - turning up out of  the blue,
uninvited as usual
From the complete unknown to the completely-flipping-obvious, Adele is here to shock absolutely no-one - the 21 juggernaut shows absolutely no signs of stopping. It really would have been more surprising if Adele wasn't given a nod, and there's a high chance she'll nab the award on the night - admittedly, all of the singles from the album have been really strong (despite overplaying), but it would be somewhat of a shame for an artist who doesn't particularly need the exposure or the considerable cash prize take the award. However, it just goes to show that 2011 really is the year that Adele simply cannot be ignored.

  Adele - Rolling In The Deep (Radio Edit) by MMMusic

Anna Calvi is another one I confess I know little about - her debut garnered split opinions, with many favouring her skew on the female singer/songwriter genre, but not everyone was taken in by the hype (yes, I'm talking about Drowned In Sound's write-up). However, it's an album I'm certainly intrigued to check out - if it really grabs me, you're likely to hear about it here on Quiff Pro 'Fro.

Elbow - the right choice
for a nomination?
Moving on, then, to an album I've actually listened to. And not just a fleeting, half-arsed listen either (I know, impressive right?) - Elbow's latest capslock-free offering build a rocket boys! Now, I would certainly never begrudge an Elbow Mercury nomination - not only is barb! an excellent album, but they're such lovely guys who imbue their music with a gigantic heart and soul without being mawkish or cloying, and a pure honesty rarely seen elsewhere. However, this acclaim does feel a little redundant overall - having won the Mercury in 2008 (and deservedly so) for their previous album, the simply fantastic Seldom Seen Kid, when it comes down to it, build a rocket boys! honestly just isn't as good. Yet, where SSK was their biggest, most sumptuously love-steeped release yet, barb! is kind of the intimate comedown, with a more stripped-back sound and a gentler tone - see, for instance, the beautiful strummed acoustic 'Jesus Is A Rochdale Girl' or the hair-raising hummed backing vocals on 'The River'. Overall, it's not exactly a sub-par Elbow album; 'Lippy Kids' is still in my top 3 songs of the year (very possibly at number one), and there's little here you'd skip. Even if it were a sub-par Elbow album, it would still be steps ahead of most of the year's releases - however, in the grand scheme of things, build a rocket boys! isn't going to win, and this choice for a nomination doesn't quite feel right - still chuffed for you though, lads!

  Elbow - Lippy Kids by ListenBeforeYouBuy

It was nice to see Everything Everything get a nod, especially what with Man Alive being such a genuinely new and inventive album unlike pretty much anything else out there. In fact, I'd kind of forgotten that this album a) existed, and b) was within the eligible time period - however, almost a year later it still holds up as a thrilling listen, even after most of the hype has passed, and after having not heard it for a while it's innovative spirit is startling all over again. Read our top 10 albums of last year for more on Man Alive.

  Everything Everything - Final Form by EverythingEverything

James Blake - not a surprise
but a worthy nominee
Another album I'm yet to check out is the Ghostpoet release (I've heard good things), but for now we should move on to the James Blake album - another nomination that isn't necessarily surprising, but a worthy addition to the list. Whilst the album hasn't grabbed me as a whole, he's got a real talent for production and is another truly innovative voice in the current UK music scene. Caught on to his cover of Feist's 'Limit To Your Love' and 'The Wilhelm Scream' and don't know where to go next? Lend an ear to 'I Never Learnt To Share', which starts in true sparse, glitchy style, before evolving into a big bassy monster before you know it.

  James Blake - I Never Learnt To Share by kisstiger

On the poppier end of the spectrum, we have Katy B and Tinie Tempah - yet again, little surprise on the Tinie front, and it's easy to see why these two have been recognised. As mindless fun, Tinie Tempah is easy enough to like, and he's had great success in bringing his blend of rap, dance and pop to mainstream success, however it's hard to argue that the Mercury Prize is edging ever further into disappointingly commercial BRIT Award territory. However, Katy B does a decent job of injecting some originality into her pop music - the dubstep influence isn't over-done, and the melodies are a little darker than the bubblegum shine of other contemporary chart music, giving her a more distinctive voice. Also, 'Easy Please Me' is a bit of a guilty pleasure - thank god Radio 1 have stopped playing it though, it was in urgent danger of being overplayed.

  Tinie Tempah - Pass Out by kbmusic

Metronomy - Devonshire bliss...
Glossing over the King Creosote & Jon Hopkins and PJ Harvey albums (both of which I very much look forward to listening to soon), we finally come to Metronomy's brilliant third album, The English Riviera. A band truly worthy of the acclaim and exposure, it's wonderful to see this get nominated. After all of the 'Nu-Rave' nonsense died down, Metronomy have since evolved into a sleek, funky alternative pop/rock group. The English Riviera is the musical equivalent of a breezy summer's day - a warm, hazy blur, full of sunny moments but with a slightly subdued chill. 'The Look' and 'The Bay' (two of the best songs this year) are catchy and immediate - just try to get 'The Bay's incredible bassline from rolling around your brain for hours - but there's enough depth and detail here that renders this album at first intriguing and subsequently addictive. Before you know it, the charms of the Devon coast have worked their way under your skin. They may not offer something  completely new like James Blake and Everything Everything, but half of The English Riviera's allure is in the way it makes its 70s and 80s rock influences (from Fleetwood Mac to Prince) sound utterly modern and fresh all over again. When it comes to likeability, The English Riviera has a heart and soul which, for me, places it at the forefront of the 2011 nominees.

 Metronomy - Everything Goes My Way by PeaceBlind

 Metronomy - She Wants by Jackplug

No nomination for Wild Beasts? Really?!
So, with those all covered, let's quickly address the elephant looming in every corner of the room - where is the nomination for Wild Beasts' phenomenal Smother?! I think I said all I wanted to about the album itself in this review, but it is really a shame that such an astonishing album from one of Britain's most exciting and ambitious bands has been overlooked. Some have suggested that this is due to last year's nomination of Wild Beasts' previous album Two Dancers - if that's the case, it's a ridiculous rule that doesn't allow one of the year's most critically acclaimed and well-loved albums to even be in with a chance. Personally, I'd have bet on these guys being strong contenders to win. It also doesn't help the claims that the Mercury Award is increasingly becoming out of touch - just see these posts from Twitter:

"In the words of Alex Turner 'somebody call the police @WildBeasts have been robbed' #mercuryprize"

"Stunned, no heartbroken, by the lack of Mercury nomination for Wild Beasts. A wonderful, unique band who could really benefit from the prize"

"Wait, so no Wild Beasts at all?! Mercury are on crack..."
@QuiffProFro... wait a sec, that was us...

  Wild Beasts - Bed Of Nails by DominoRecordCo

Otherwise sorely overlooked are Radiohead. Sure, The King Of Limbs (review) isn't a powerhouse of an album, but it's a gorgeous record with a hauntingly delicate texture, and without a doubt one of the best British releases in the past year. Similarly, there's been no nod for Noah and the Whale's Last Night on Earth (review) or the Leisure Society's Into The Murky Water (review), despite both being examples of brilliant British pop music. When UK bands are making pop records with as much brains and heart as these two, it really is a shame that the fun-but-shallow Tinie Tempah album is getting yet more attention.

So, all in all a mixed bag. My fingers are crossed for either Metronomy or Everything Everything this year, but the real winners should have been Wild Beasts. I think the only people who haven't realised this are those on the panel - so do yourself a favour, and if you decide to indulge in some new purchases on the back of this year's nominations, I urge you to buy a copy of Smother and see what all the fuss is about.

Get Metronomy - The English Riviera on vinyl for £10 (bargain!) at HMV online  /  Get Wild Beasts - Smother on CD for £9  /  Get Everything Everything - Man Alive on CD for less than a fiver

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