The Mercury Prize – A celebration of ‘beige’?


The nominations are out (!) and it must be time for that two-month window of hype, radio play and sales boosts as the British public deliberates over which British album to be proudest of in 2013. Of course, they get no say in the matter, that is up to industry ‘experts’ who are of course far more suited to handle such a complex and unyielding task. In case you hadn’t seen it yet, here’s the shortlist-

Arctic Monkeys – AM

David Bowie – The Next Day

Disclosure – Settle

Foals – Holy Fire

Jake Bugg – Jake Bugg

James Blake – Overgrown                 

Jon Hopkins – Immunity       

Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle

Laura Mvula – Sing to the Moon

Rudimental – Home

Savages – Silence Yourself

Villagers – Awayland

A cracking list I’m sure you’ll agree – apart from perhaps Laura Marling who I wasn’t a massive fan of – but, like Marling, isn’t it all a bit bland? A bit ‘beige’? Come on Britain, you’re better than that!

The Arctic Monkeys had barely released their latest studio offering before it was being added to the list and, although I’m sure Gruffudd Owen would beg to differ, it’s just one drawn out melodious rock ballad playing on the current characterisation of Alex Turner as the epitome of post-Britpop cool and, much like their Glastonbury headline slot, just falls flat on its face. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be the first singing along to ‘R U Mine?’ in fresher’s, that riff is infectious and the groove runs up your spine like a pneumatic drill on a freshly laid pavement but is it innovative enough, really?

Similarly, it could be said that Bowie’s inclusion on the list is purely aesthetical, the fashion in which he released ‘The Next Day’ with no pre-warning whatsoever was monumental and will not doubt go down in rock history. The album, however, is great but not one of Bowie’s best, and besides, do you really think he cares about a Mercury prize with 140 million album sales under his belt? 

No, the Mercury should be designed to encourage young, often fledging but indisputably innovative, stars to further success. The prize has a reputation as a ‘curse’ with Damon Albarn retracting Gorillaz’ nomination in 2010 describing it as “like carrying a dead albatross round your neck for eternity”. Previous winners Primal Scream, Elbow, Dizzee Rascal, Pulp, Portishead, Alt-J, The XX and Arctic Monkeys don’t seem to be doing too badly for themselves though so this claim seems slightly unjustified! If targeted at the right act, the right talent that actually needs the recognition of the industry could the Mercury’s be force for both celebration and good?

The remainder of the nominees, although slightly less established as modern-day ‘legends’ of British music, are nonetheless all successful and appreciated in their own right, so do they really need another gong? With the BBC sound of –insert year- and the Brit’s ‘critics choice’ awards both having descended into a pre-paid joke within the music industry, surely there needs to be a recognition of talent and innovation for those that actually need a leg up into an increasingly more competitive, yet also less lucrative environment.

In 2013 every Tom, Dick and Harry seems to be able to join the ranks of X Factor/Britain’s Got Talent as ‘finalists’, as the weeks go by every top 40 chart becomes increasingly unimaginative and every mainstream televised music event has now become a celebration of complacency with only one festival headliner this year having released their debut album within the last five years and that was Mumford and Sons who are the definition of ‘beige’.

I may sound like a grumpy old man here, but the average summer festival-goer was 44 so there’s a lot more out there willing to pay three-hundred odd quid for their luxury yurt, is this really a true reflection of British music that we want to promote to the outside world? Probably not.

British music is exciting, it’s diverse and, most importantly, it’s innovative. So yeah, bop along or chill out to your Mercury nominees – I know I will – but if you want to celebrate innovation, what’s actually a true reflection of the British music scene and not merely a jetlagged mainstream catch-up, look elsewhere.

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