Monday 5 September 2011

Barclaycard Mercury Music Prize 2011

The nominees have been decided and the awards ceremony is fast upon us (tomorrow!).  But who will win the coveted prize?  Read on for some views on each of the nominees, complete with a Gizzle choice track...

Adele - 21
"The leader of the pack"
In commercial terms, 21 is undoubtedly the album of the year, with Adele becoming a global phenomenon.  But even artistically and vocally, this is an outstanding album - the most soulful and emotive album on the list.  So is it a sure-fire winner?  Or will the judges choose to upset the balance?  Either way, few would argue that Adele is an unworthy contender.
Gizzle's Choice - Turning Tables

Anna Calvi - Anna Calvi
"The Vampy One"
Impassioned guitars plus Calvi's classically-tinged warble - it's a winning combination.  The vampy songstress has a hard exterior, but also shows her darker, more vulnerable side on this album.  Though a worthy nominee, Calvi's sound is less forward-thinking and more reminiscent of the past.
Gizzle's Choice - The Devil

Elbow - Build A Rocket Boys!
"The Old Boys"
Elbow have always managed to balance the commercial and the experimental.  Though less varied than their previous winning album The Seldom Seen Kid, this album offers an assured and confident tone.  The sound is calm, relaxed and warm, as evident in the beautifully hushed chorus of Lippy Kids ("Build a rocket boys...").  It's unlikely, though, that this album will bring them another trophy.
Gizzle's Choice - Lippy Kids

Everything Everything - Man Alive
"The Indie One"
The oldest album on the list, many of its tracks will be recognised.  Man Alive provides a relentless album of upbeat electro-indie-rock-pop tunes.  The production is cleverly put together; some of the lyrics not so much ("Who's gonna sit on your face when I'm gone").  At times the album is impenetrable, but the allure of their distinctive sound, falsetto vocal harmonies and catchy hooks will keep you coming back.  But album of the year?
Gizzle's Choice - MY KZ, UR BF

Ghostpoet - Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam
"The one with the best title"
Ghostpoet is pretty much the antithesis of Tinie Tempah.  Where Tinie provides urban pop records, Ghostpoet provides abstract electro production combined with a lazy vocal delivery reminiscent of Maxi Jazz of Faithless fame.  It's certainly different, but at times it's far from accessible, instead more of an acquired taste.
Gizzle's Choice - Cash and Carry Me Home

Gwilym Simcock - Good Days at Schloss Elmau
"The Abstract One"
There's always one oddball selection - Simcock provides this year's choice.  It's an album that defies genre classification.  His background as a classical pianist clearly influences his jazz composition, fusing the two together in this solo piano opus.  An immensely talented pianist, his inclusion in the nominee list is welcome, but his style is probably too niche to win outright.
Gizzle's Choice - Northern Smiles

James Blake - James Blake
"The Loner One"
The term "coffee-table dub step" has been bandied about with regards to James Blake, especially by NME.  It's true that he's taken the genre and, combined with his soulful vocal, developed it in a more experimental, artistic direction.  Interesting?  Absolutely, but for some the overly artistic approach ultimately leaves the listener unsatisfied, though his standout tracks more than make up for this.
Gizzle's Choice - Wilhelm Scream

Katy B - On A Mission
"The one that shouldn't be there"
It's not that On A Mission is an utterly terrible album.  It's that Katy B herself is probably the least talented artist on the list, she's just been lucky enough to work with some talented producers.  Sure, she's played her part in the commercialising of dub-step, but other artists have steered the genre in wildly different directions. Instead, Katy B has churned out a series of banal pop tracks - Katy On A Mission brought her into the limelight but it's been downhill since then. 
Gizzle's Choice - Katy On A Mission

King Creosote & Jon Hopkins - Diamond Mine
"The folky one"
An album of beautiful simplicity: storytelling lyrics, modern yet gentle music production and melodic shakes with Scottish folk inflections. But will a folk album ever win the Mercury prize?
Gizzle's Choice - Bats In The Attic

Metronomy - The English Riviera
"The Too-Cool-For-School One"
At first, the minimalist electro approach feels cold and clinical, songwriter Joseph Mount living up to his band's name.  But after repeated listening, The English Riviera proves rewarding: from the effortless The Look, to the disco infused The Bay and the slow-burning Love UnderlinedMetronomy are far more than just the cool kids.
Gizzle's Choice - The Bay

PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
"The Veteran"
Another year, another PJ Harvey nomination.  This is her fourth acknowledgement, after two nominations and a win in 2001.  Let England Shake represents a rare example of a concept album with a strong creative vision actually working: an anti-war album that heavily references WW1.  Its patriotic, controversial view is refreshing; its creation truly artistic, even if it's not the most accessible album on the list.  The sweetly sung, alien vocal juxtaposes with the subject matter, with guitars and autoharp combining for a unique sonority.  The talk is of an artist at her creative peak, but whether she's created a winning album is another question entirely.
Gizzle's Choice - The Glorious Land

Tinie Tempah - Disc-Overy
"The Urban One"
Having already won two Brit awards and received a further two nominations, it's been a strong year for Tinie Tempah.  Could the Mercury prize be on its way too?  Unlikely.  Disc-Overy has been a hugely successful album, helping to reinvigorate the UK urban music scene.  But despite some distinctive tracks, other nominees have created more unique offerings.
Gizzle's Choice - Simply Unstoppable

The Conclusion
This year's list, as ever, spans a wide spectrum from commercial pop to creative art music and those that successfully balance the middle ground.  Though Adele is the obvious choice, it's rare that the judges have taken the simple approach.  They could just as easily choose the artistic route with PJ Harvey; the "cool" route with Metronomy; or upset the balance totally by choosing Simcock.  Whatever the outcome, the night will be filled with great performances mixed with boundless controversy either way.  Judging by the history of the competition, it really is anyone's game.

Gizzle's Choice: Toss up between PJ Harvey, Adele and Metronomy.