In the world of meaningless awards, the UK's Mercury Prize has always been different because it actually seems to be based on merit. At least moreso than, say, the Grammys. It's also an actual prize – £20,000 — and one of the few that I actually still pay attention to, though nominees have become somewhat predictable in recent years. This year's "shortlist" of album nominees — all UK artists, released between July 2008 and July 2009 — was announced today, and like usual, it's a mix of the obvious, some outsiders, and at least three you've never heard of. They are as follows:
Florence and the Machine – Lungs
Kasabian – West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum
Bat for Lashes – Two Suns
La Roux – La Roux
Glasvegas – Glasvegas
Speech Debelle – Speech Therapy
Friendly Fires – Friendly Fires
The Horrors – Primary Colours
Lisa Hannigan – Sea Sew
The Invisible – The Invisible
Led Bib – Sensible Shoes
Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Twice Born Men
The clear front-runner this year is Bat for Lashes' Two Suns that is just the sort of lush, just-experimental-enough record to which Mercury loves giving the prize, and I would be just fine if she wins. (And I also think she will.) Mercury also likes giving to newcomers, so I think Florence and the Machine stands a good chance too even though I think it's maybe a little too schizo for its own good. Friendly Fires' album is solid but maybe not enough innovation for Mercury, and La Roux are as annoying as they are good.
Last year's winners were Elbow, so I kind of think that will negatively affect both Kasabian (also it's not that good) and Glasvegas (they've got one song). Similarly, some are shocked — shocked! — that Doves' Kingdom of Rust didn't make the shortlist, but personally I think the band was treading water with that one so I was not disappointed.
Speech Debelle's record is pretty good but she's too unknown at this time. As for Led Bib (skwonky jazz), Lisa Hannigan (lovely Irish folk), Sweet Billy Pilgrim (laptop folk that is better than their name), and The Invisible… "it's an honor to be nominated."
If I got to vote, I'd give my support to The Horrors, whose Primary Colors is the surprise of 2009 so far. Here's a band that were mostly known for their haircuts and were seen mainly as a joke. Then they go and work with Portishead's Geoff Barrow and suddenly nobody's laughing. It's creepy, it rocks and it's chock full of memorable songs. And the production is just amazing, kind of like My Bloody Valentine's Loveless in that you listen trying to figure out whether that's a guitar, a keyboard or maybe your stereo is broken. Owing a giant debt to the post post punk of The Sound, The Chameleons and Bauhaus, Primary Colours feels of the moment.
They won't win, of course.
MP3: The Horrors – Scarlet Fields (buy Primary Colours)
I'm also kind of sad these records didn't get nominated: Micachu – Jewellery, The Phantom Band – Checkmate Savage, and Jack Penate – Everything is New.
It's easy to bash the Grammy's because they deserve it, but I always think of this Simpsons clip whenever I think about them: