Another year, another Mercury Prize (sorry, Nationwide Mercury Prize), and an ultimate feeling of deflation once the dust’s settled. The bookies got it right, we got it wrong; Arctic Monkeys are the critics’ as well as the consumers’ favourites, and who are we to stand in the way of their sweeping-aside-all-before-them power and popularity?
But what have this year’s awards – held yesterday, in case you weren’t tuned in to BBC 4 last night – actually taught us? We knew Arctic Monkeys were a big deal – we’d been repeatedly told that their winning record, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (pictured), is the fastest-selling debut from an English rock band, or something. We knew Jo Whiley and Jools Holland would strip any wonder, any magnificence, from the nominated dozen with a series of single-sentence soundbites that could have been penned by someone who’d never even heard one of the twelve albums. We knew that the token jazz nominee wouldn’t emerge victorious, and that, despite our love for it, Isobel Campbell’s Ballad Of The Broken Seas would almost certainly not get the nod purely because of Mark Lanegan’s involvement. Last year's 'But he's not British!' protestations weren't to be welcomed once more.
What we never knew, though, was that the Mercury panel would this year side with popular opinion, something they’ve rarely done in the past. Who really predicted that Antony And The Johnsons would pip Kaiser Chiefs twelve months ago? Granted, Franz Ferdinand won in 2004, PJ Harvey in 2001, and Pulp in 1996; but the former never made first-album waves as massive as the Monkeys’, Polly Jean was damn well due the award after two previous nominations in 1993 (Rid Of Me) and 1995 (To Bring You My Love), and Pulp’s Different Class was just that, compared to both what came before and after it. Put simply: Arctic Monkeys don’t need this additional recognition, especially not when it comes from industry movers and shakers allegedly able to distinguish fads and trends from music of soul and substance.
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We’re not saying Whatever People Say… has neither of those qualities, and nor are we suggesting that their success will be short-lived, but overlooking the genius that peppers so many of the Monkeys’ fellow nominees’ efforts could result in their engulfing by the mists of time; they could join the likes of Tom McRae’s self-titled record of 2001 and The Bees’ Sunshine Hit Me, nominated in 2002 alongside The Electric Soft Parade’s equally hazily recalled Holes In The Wall, in the margins of Mercury Prize history. It’d be terrible, tragic really, if Richard Hawley’s Coles Corner became one of these all-but-forgotten also-rans – this year’s winners rightly offered a nod to their fellow Sheffield resident upon collecting their trophy. Sway’s This Is My Demo probably won’t be relegated to the back room of the Mercury archives any time soon – unlike the actual The Back Room album, if the panel have any sense – but as the sole hip-hop nomination it’s sure to be approached with a degree of cynicism by indie-rockers drawn to it by the sure-to-be-there ‘A Mercury Album Of The Year’ sticker. That, and its newfound association with the Monkeys, of course.
What would we have liked to see happen? Obviously it’d have been nice if a DiS pick – noted here – had won the £20,000 prize for its maker/s, but what we were really hoping for was any result but the one beamed into living rooms nationwide last night. We mean Arctic Monkeys no disrespect whatsoever, but as has been made clear above: they don’t need their profile increased, simply because it can’t get any bigger as of now. Other artists, those twiddling thumbs alongside the youthful Northerners as Jools introduced another clip of band X or Y performing at Reading, would have benefited from the award to a much greater extent – not so much from the prize money but absolutely from the possibilities and opportunities that can land in an artist’s lap in the wake of such an event. If you’re after a summary of the last six-hundred-odd words, it’s that we’re disappointed. We do feel deflated. We feel a little beaten, as if the faceless taste-makers and money men of the business have had their way with an award that should have recognised the uniqueness of at least half of 2006’s nominees by awarding one of them the prize. The Mercury isn’t The Brits, but last night’s result made it seem like a sister ceremony.
On the plus side, Thom Yorke is a magician, a bewitcher of channel-hopping senses. Did you see him perform ‘Analyse’? These eyes didn’t blink; this mouth didn’t close, throughout. Anyone that can hold an attention, through a television screen, so masterfully, while performing with such a special tenderness, is quite clearly a genius. And he didn’t take his thanks-for-coming statue with him when he left the stage, either. He should run the country. Or at least the music business.
Perhaps then the dust kicked up by the once-yearly scrum from the Mercury wouldn’t settle quite as underwhelmingly as it did a few hours ago.