Mercury Poisoning

James Garner 20 September 2007

Being the sort of person who enjoys shouting insults at deaf people, I decided to write an article taking the piss out of the Mercury Prize. I mean, honestly, how can a prize designed to award innovation, creativity and cultural significance nominate The View? I dutifully headed over to the Prize’s website to find a quote I could twist to make them look silly. I looked. I looked some more. I made a mental note to call the website designer a tosser. Eventually however, I had to concede that there was actually nothing there about promoting innovation.

I’m no conspiracy theorist but I’m sure they’ve surreptitiously changed their mission statement, possibly since that time they gave the prize to Gomez. Now they exist “solely to champion UK music” and “all genres of music are eligible.” Let me get this straight. They are saying they choose the best albums of the year by UK artists. So how did The Fucking View get nominated?

Fortunately I then found an amusing quote: “The music on the album is the only thing taken into account.” That is clearly untrue. For a start there’s the clause in Jools Holland’s contract that requires at least one exotically attractive female to be nominated. This year both Tahita Bulmer and Bat for Lashes spent the evening averting his gaze like adopted children who’ve acquired a lecherous uncle. The unintended consequence of this is that other artists assume that by raiding the dressing up box, pouting and putting a few pretentious songs together they are guaranteed a nomination. Can someone have a word with Patrick Wolf?

And if the judges only focus on “the music” (man) does that mean they ignore lyrics? It would explain how they managed to bring themselves to nominate Kaiser Chiefs in 2005. No, wait a sec. It wouldn’t. But then in 2006 they gave the prize to Arctic Monkeys’ lyrics-propelled debut, despite its rather uninspiring musicianship and production. Indeed with Yorkshire’s finest returning this year with a significantly more ambitious record you’d think they judges would have to give them the award. Favourite Worst Nightmare was clearly better than its predecessor and also, by some distance, the best album nominated.

So it won? Of course not. That wouldn’t fit the modus operandi of the Mercury judges – to award the prize to someone ‘unexpected’. Unfortunately this year everyone had got wise to their usual ploys of giving it to someone completely leftfield (Antony and the Johnsons) or someone who is ‘too obvious’ (Franz Ferdinand.) That’s why Bat for Lashes and Amy Winehouse were the bookies’ favourites. So, in order to surprise us this year, they gave it to Klaxons. Klaxons. A band who everyone thought were too popular yet not popular enough to be the unexpected populist winner. Well fucking done judges.

Now I get onto my serious point: the Mercury judges are idiots. Klaxons album is nothing more than a radio friendly version of Test-Icicles’ For Screening Purposes Only with added sirens. Oh, but back in 2005 wearing stupid clothes and admitting you are a joke band wasn’t cool. Actually it was. It’s always cool. If Klaxons were worth the win, how come The Horrors, a group who do the same thing with psych-garage instead of rave, weren’t nominated? It’s because the public isn’t attuned to The Horrors yet; just as they didn’t get Test-Icicles two years ago.

But the judges’ job is to follow the public, isn’t it? Well, err, no. The thing about being a self-professed expert is that you should be able to anticipate trends rather than following them. Instead the judges resemble someone’s dad turning up at a party. And he’s wearing a baseball cap.

In its fifteen year history the Mercury Prize has failed to so much as nominate the two most influential British albums of the period: Blur’s Modern Life is Rubbish and The Libertines’ Up the Bracket. Once the boat has sailed off the judges jump into the water. Hence Pulp’s 1996 win and Klaxons this year. And yes. That’s also why The View got nominated.

James Garner