Where were you when the Barclaycard Mercury Prize 2013 shortlist was announced last week? Doubled over your laptop, nervously hitting the refresh button while live-tweeting your uncontainable excitement? Of course you weren’t. Because you, like most of the British music-loving public, don’t give a monkey’s about this increasingly meaningless award.
But some people do, and when the list of British and Irish-made albums in the running for the notoriously skimpy prize money surfaced, it kicked up a right old stink.
The Mercury Prize was set up in 1992 by then-MD of Virgin Records Jon Webster as an ‘antidote to the Brits’. ‘There was no debate about music or an attempt to broaden peoples’ tastes with those awards’, said Webster, in an interview years later. ‘This was different: it was about bringing really good records to people’s attention that would otherwise have never had a chance.’
However, these words seemed to ring hollow this year as pontificating journos and bitter ‘slighted’ artists, have sounded off about how ‘mainstream’, ‘safe’ and ‘establishment’ this year’s choices are.
David Bowie’s The Next Day is the bookies’ favourite, but while it is a glorious comeback, boundary-pushing and low-profile it ain’t. The rest of the list is made up by somewhat more fresh-faced veterans as well as some veritable chart-toppers: from the Arctic Monkeys (nominated for their saucy No.1 LP AM) to producer ensembles Disclosure (Settle) and Rudimental (Home), whose infectious dancefloor-fillers dominated the summer charts before the invasion of the all-conquering Avicii and Robin Thicke. Plus, other than Jon Hopkins’ startling Immunity, an ambient, textural and slyly devastating dance album, there’s little here that was truly inventive. Even the usual token jazz bands are missing in a list that reads like any old consumer mag’s ‘best of the year’.