The Horrors, Bat For Lashes, Speech Debelle, The Invisible, Glasvegas - What does the Mercury Prize mean anyway?

Alex Cocks 07/09/2009

When Lauren Laverne and the panel for this year's Mercury Music Awards are all in Hell they will walk with their heads on backwards. For this year's nominations are not a case of rewarding progress and innovation but are a case of rewarding fiscal success. We all know that awards ceremonies are self-serving, a shot in the arm for the industry, and are wholly redundant. However what is different about this years is that tastemaking is as high on the agenda as artistic merit. There are the usual anomalous entries, which are frankly ridiculous as this event is squared mainly at the mainstream Radio 1 market. Gone are the days when Roni Size or Talvin Singh could win it. Who decides these lists? Rather than judiciously root out the chaff and choose the most invidious and rewarding listens from the last year, they have more than half an eye on the mainstream and the rest on what will be popular over the rest of the year. Vested interests mean that this is no longer really an award that rewards artistic merit, or am I going to be really surprised? If any of the NME approved acts win, you know the answer...Mercifully they resisted the urge to include White Lies, but I think that excluding Doves was disingenuous. Because of Elbow's success last year they were proclaimed as favourites, but I believe the judges wanted to avoid falling into a trap of handing out awards due to sentiment. Kingdom Of Rust has its merits, but it falls short of the high watermark that their first two albums set and is simply not good enough to win this award.

Brand awareness; the awards are now sponsored by Barclaycard and will be broadcast by the BBC. Jo Whiley and Zane Lowe have got in on the act and promoted the fuck out of their favourites.

The nominations are comfortably the weakest collection of albums proposed for some time. It is also completely spineless. Here be an annotated list.

Glasvegas - Glasvegas
Barbed social realism delivered in a fug of J&MC-esque noise. Heard it all before, but it's nae bad.

Bat For Lashes - Two Suns
Disappointing follow-up to a promising debut. Needs to stop listening to Tango In The Night-era Fleetwood Mac.

Lisa Hannigan - Sea Sew
Formerly Damien Rice's muse; beautiful voice, nice arrangements but a little too cloying in parts. Too mannered however to really make a lasting impression.

The Horrors - Primary Colours
Probably the most impressive progression by any recent band.

Kasabian - West Rider Lunatic Pauper Asylum
Nod to the establishment.

Led Bib - Sensible Shoes
Ah, the "Who the fuck?" nomination. Oh they play jazz music. I have no idea if they play it well. Oh actually they are good. Prog-jazz.

The Invisible - The Invisible
These guys are actually really good, much better than all those awful and lazy TV on the Radio comparisons suggest.

La Roux - La Roux
Can't sing for toffee. Awful stick thin reedy production. This should n't win, it is just dressed up noughties pop (much like Lady Gaga).

Friendly Fires - Friendly Fires
Three great singles does not a great album make I'm afraid boys, even though 'Paris' is the perfect encapsulation of our aspirational, borrow now pay later generation.

Sweet Billy Pilgrim - Twice Born Men
They remind me of Tuung's somnabulant folktronica. Quite nice.

Speech Debelle - Speech Therapy
Slime and Reason by Roots Manuva is a better album if we're doing the whole "Let's pick one hip hop album released this year that somehow represents the whole of black and urban music, because those guys have totally got the MOBOs, selfish bastards...", but that tune with Michachu is aces. The fact that this is here showcases how spineless the list is, the ticking of boxes and cross-referencing of demographics must have taken them hours.

Florence and The Machine - Lungs
She'll probably win, despite being a third rate Tori Amos impersonator.

The awards ceremony takes place this Tuesday (8th September 2009). I can't wait for some dunderheads to tell me what was the best British album over the last twelve months.

What do you make of the Mercury prize in 2009? Does the shortlist now ignore innovation and unheralded in favour of the successful artists? Who should win? Who should have been nominated? Do you care?