Open Ear Blog

Opinion | There's Something About The Mercury

With last night’s Mercury announcement and the predictable gushing praise for everything on the list, I can’t help think that this supposed celebration of modern British music is fast becoming a parody of itself. M-People notwithstanding, the award had a respectable first decade, before slowly slipping and developing the cracks that would eventually fissure into this list we see today.

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With the exceptions of Lewisham’s Novelist (this year’s predictable nod to frustrated black youth), Everything is Recorded (XL label boss Richard Russell’s collaborative release that should surely be considered a compilation) and Sons of Kemet (with their third album since their 2013 MOBO win), the shortlist appears to have been drawn up based entirely upon the expectations of these releases, rather than how they were actually received. If the record is promoted and the tour is booked, then tickets will be sold. Audiences are blinded by the hype before they need to witness whatever turgid attempts at progression are made by these former icons.

King Krule, this season’s James Blake, proved that it actually always had been Mount Kimbie doing the hard work when he released the barely-distracting and thoroughly forgettable The Ooz back in October, proving that cool friends and a decent stylist can get you almost anywhere.

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Florence + The Machine and Arctic Monkeys both offered up slices of lazy emptiness masquerading as reserved intellectualism, Jorja Smith and Lily Allen both fill the obligatory edgy young female with attitude slot with albums on par with 2002 winner Ms. Dynamite’s A Little Deeper (big up you if you can remember anything beyond her signature (and singular) hit.

Wolf Alice and Nadine Shah fill the PJ Harvey slot this year, with records that only failed to disappoint and came nowhere close to what the hype assured us, while Noel Gallagher, this year’s Paul Weller / Elbow / Ed Sheeran will no doubt have a reasonable time at the ceremony, rubbing shoulders and discussing country piles with the rest of the stodgy BPIers.

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While it goes without saying that this increasingly embarrassing debacle exists to sell tickets to already-booked tours and musical inventiveness has long ceased to be a contributing factor, in twelve months that have seen essential releases by Jon Hopkins, SOPHIE, Rival Consoles, Kojey Radical, Hollie Cook, Ash Koosha and Corbin, it’s a real shame that the most public display of ‘deciding what’s good’ once again seems to only exist to reassure the Q/Guardian reading masses.

Boxes ticked, pats on the back and another step backwards for modern music.

By Neil Macdonald, Head of Music, 27th July 2018

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