In the last few days, the nominees for the Mercury Prize were announced. In the music business in the UK, this is one of the biggest accolades you could be nominated for as a musician. Your album is recognised as the best in the UK and with winners including albums such as Arctic Monkeys’ debut album ‘Whatever People Say That I Am, That’s What I’m Not’, The xx’s ‘xx’ and James Blake’s ‘Overgrown’, it’s clear the award is rewarded to the music alone. This being the case when albums more popular in the charts like Adele’s ‘21’ and Florence and the Machine’s debut ‘Lungs’ were beaten by albums not as chart successful.
This year, it seems as if the critics behind the awards have completely ignored chart success and arguably well written albums, going with albums that few people may have heard of. In comparison to last year being able to say 9 of the artists I had heard of in the nominees, this year I struggled to get 4. Saying that there are two really well known artists nominated for this award: Bombay Bicycle Club and Damon Albarn, the latter receiving his fourth nomination, including his refused nominated with band Gorillaz with their self-titled album. Up and coming artists like Nick Mulvey, Jungle and FKA Twigs also have been nominated, which is always a complement especially in the case of the latter, with it being her debut album.
In all honesty, I have opinions about who should not win. Anna Calvi has been nominated for a second time with her album ‘One Breath’. Although she has a perfectly decent voice and the production is not terrible, for me, the album is bordering on monotone. Whilst being able to appreciate the effort put in to electronic artist East India Youth’s debut album ‘Total Strife Forever’, it’s about personal taste and I don’t really rate electronic music.
On the other hand, there are a couple of stand-out albums in the selection. Royal Blood’s self-titled debut offering is right up my alley in terms of music taste. I love rock music and it’s rare that the heavier rock music is credited in this type of way. Also, it was chart successful, being one of the only albums reaching the top spot. Although it’s easy to compare them to other bands in the same genre, It’s clear they already have a firm following after supporting Arctic Monkeys on tour and with performances at Glastonbury, T in the Park and Reading & Leeds. They sound like a rockier version of Arctic Monkeys so it made sense to support them on tour. Nick Mulvey’s ‘First Mind’ is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum in terms of sound. It’s an acoustic sound in which you can hear the unique qualities of Mulvey’s gorgeous voice. Although I love the heavy rock, I also love acoustic guitars, which makes ‘First Mind’ a winner for me.
Although people may say the critics have got their choices bang on this year, I believe they have missed a couple of great albums. Sam Smith has had the best year, winning the Critics Choice award at the Brits and the BBC Sound of 2014. His debut album ‘In the Lonely Hour’ is comparable in terms of heartbreak to Adele’s ‘21’ and with good reason. With gorgeous ballads like ‘Stay With Me’ and ‘Leave Your Lover’, it seems laughable that it wasn’t even nominated. Similarly, Ed Sheeran has had a great year with second album ‘x’ being at the top of the chart for 8 weeks. This album proved that he has had emotional growth as a musician. Now working with the number one machine that is Pharrell Williams on songs like ‘Sing’ and ‘Don’t’, with the former having more success for its Justin Timberlake sound, making it his most successful song to date. It is a travesty that neither ‘x’ nor debut album ‘+’ has been nominated.
Overall, although there are highlights, this year’s nominations for the Mercury Prize are little more than average. If I had to pick decide on a winner, I would go with Mulvey, but it will more than likely be Damon Albarn’s ‘Everyday Robots’. Although I like the odd album in the list, next year Mercury Prize: step up.