Tomorrow night, Tuesday the 6th of September in London, the winner of the 2011 Mercury Prize will be crowned. I’ve asked each of our writers to choose which album they think should win this year’s honour, as well as which album they think was criminally absent from the 2011 shortlist. And without further adieu…
Mary Chang, Editor (hometown/current location: Washington, DC, USA)
Who should win: Everything Everything – ‘Man Alive’ (Geffen). To be honest, I was pretty underwowed by the nominees announced for this year. As much as I love Elbow, I don’t think ‘build a rocket, boys!’ was all that great. If Adele wins with ’21′, it’ll be a dark day in Mercury Prize history: in the past, the honour has usually been given to an ‘outsider’ artist that could use the promotion, and with how ever many million records Adele has already sold, it’s not like she needs more to line her pockets. In contrast, Everything Everything’s debut album released last summer was a breath of fresh air to the British music market: a cross between pop, rock and hip hop that they proved with their inimitable talent could be converted into an orchestral force to be reckoned with.
Who should have been nominated: Dutch Uncles – ‘Cadenza’ (Memphis Industries). If I’m going to go with an album that I believe is in the same league with ‘Man Alive’, then it’s got to be this debut from the Marple band. It just doesn’t sound anything like anyone else, except maybe Field Music. Duncan Wallis’s voice is so distinct and somehow it works perfectly against the math rock/pop dissonant instrumentation. Keep an eye on these guys.
John Fernandez (hometown: Guernsey, UK)
Who should win: Katy B – ‘On A Mission’ (Rinse/Columbia). It was a close tie between Londoner Katy B and Mancunians Elbow. But on sheer merit alone I believe Katy B has to win this award, she has produced one of the most inventive dubstep collaboration records in recent history. While avoiding the pigeonhole of mainstream dub-pop (Chase and Status) and stayed true to her roots. ‘On A Mission’ is full of charm, hooks and has a fantastic rhythm to it, no other album on the list in my opinion can match it, and while it may fall into the ‘too mainstream’ trap, I believe this could be the surprise winner.
Who should have been nominated: Hurts – ‘Happiness’ (RCA/Sony). Hurts do one thing, and that is divide opinion. Are they just a well dressed boyband or are they interesting synthpop? One this is certain though: ‘Happiness’ is a well produced monster of a record, so it astounds me that it isn’t on the Mercury Prize short list. The lyrics are as polished as their shoes on stage and you can’t fault them on inventiveness: they tour and record with an opera singer (OK, so Muse produced a symphony, so what?)
Braden Fletcher (Northern Monkey, Southern Student, UK)
Who should win: Ghostpoet – ‘Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam’ (Brownswood). To say that Ghostpoet is a dark horse in the Mercury prize isn’t so much an understatement as it was when the nominations were announced. As if waiting for his name to come up on the list, the MC has been relentlessly promoting and touring his debut effort in the last 2 months. He has good reason to as ‘Peanut Butter Blues…’ is one of the most competent albums of its genre to appear in Britain since the rise of the Streets. Ghostpoet barely adheres to the same rulebook as Skinner but the similarities are there. Both tell it how they see it without reserve and both are some of the most relevant artists around today. Give a listen through the Midlands man’s record and you’ll understand why Mike Skinner is counted upon his high profile fanbase. ‘Survive It’ is a grand piece of abstract rap that makes Tinie Tempah look like a school boy whilst ‘Us Against Whatever’ encapsulates James Blake-esque beats with a stunning set of lyrics. Ghostpoet for me, is the obvious choice for people who don’t like to choose and a solid enough record to actually be noticed.
Who should have been nominated: Maybeshewill – ‘I Was Here For a Moment, Then I Was Gone’ (Function). Post-rock is such a hugely under valued genre of late. With the only real recognition going towards Texas group Explosions in the Sky, the talent of Maybeshewill is going hugely unnoticed. The Leicester band’s first two efforts feature some of the most relevant monologues in recent history amidst a well constructed soundscape and this, their third record maintains the high bar the group set themselves. Managing to be all of powerful, loud, moving and well refined at almost all times, ‘I Was Here For a Moment…’ is exactly the kind of mastery that should have warranted a Mercury Prize, if for no more than the entire genre being continuously overlooked.
Luke Morton, (hometown: Lincoln, UK; current location: London, UK)
Who should win: Everything Everything – ‘Man Alive’ (Geffen). One of my favourite albums of 2010 and they can deliver the goods live as well. The electro-indie synthwork and the soaring vocals are what give Everything Everything the edge over so many other bands in their field who simply fade into the ether. ‘Man Alive’ is jam-packed with danceable tunes, whether it’s the infectious ‘Photoshop Handsome’ or the majestic singalong of ‘MY KZ UR BF’, ‘Man Alive’ has so much to offer – surprisingly versatile yet accessible for a debut album.
Who should have been nominated: The King Blues – ‘Punk & Poetry’ (Transmission). Probably my favourite British album of 2011 so far, the King Blues’ third LP is their finest work to date and should have received some recognition from Mercury. Their politically-charged, emotive, passionate LP ‘Punk & Poetry’ brings many elements to the table – primarily through Itch’s lyrics. ‘The Future’s Not What It Used to Be’ and ‘Set the World on Fire’ are fantastic examples of the frustration the band (and a lot of the general public) feel about the country. Whereas album closer ‘Everything Happens For A Reason’ showcases the band’s sombre/sensitive side as Itch regales the listener with the story of meeting his partner and having his first child. There’s so much to take away from this album and it’s a real shame that despite the punk movement still going strong in the UK, no attention has been paid to it again in the awards dedicated to British music.
Martin Sharman (current location: Gateshead, UK)
Who should win: Anna Calvi – ‘Anna Calvi’ (Domino). Variously fêted and slated, Calvi’s debut may initially be overlooked as faux-Harvey, and with PJ on the list again this year seems an unlikely choice to win. However, good though ‘Let England Shake’ is, at this stage in her career Harvey needs the Mercury less than they need her, having the freedom to explore her talents with ever more directional work. Calvi is surely the heiress-in-waiting, her debut treading the fine line between artifice and splendour delicately well, and giving Harvey a run for her money in the drama stakes. Even without the Mercury’s fondness for debut albums, Calvi is surely the one to beat.
Who should have been nominated: Edwyn Collins – ‘Losing Sleep’ (Heavenly Records). Collins’ backstory of recovery from a debilitating brain haemorrhage that left him unable to play his collection of beloved vintage guitars isn’t enough to win him a Mercury nomination. But this superb collection of guitar-pop gems certainly should have been. This is as touching, joyous and assertive as anything on the list this year, Collins’ compelling, slightly slurred vocal a candid reflection on his condition and subsequent readjustment. And this wouldn’t have simply been Collins’ award: the list of collaborators reads like a roll-call of the great and the good in British guitar music. A true pop survivor and deserving of a nod this year.