The nominations for the 2017 Hyundai Mercury Album Of The Year are here. The list is always a hot topic of debate – picking the 12 British and Irish albums of the year is no easy task. However, this year’s list has left a few people scratching their heads. The nominated albums are:
- alt-j – Relaxer
- Blossoms – Blossoms
- Dinosaur – Together, As One
- Ed Sheeran – ÷
- Glass Animals – How to Be a Human Being
- J Hus – Common Sense
- Kate Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos
- Loyle Carner – Yesterday’s Gone
- Sampha – Process
- Stormzy – Gang Signs & Prayer
- The Big Moon – Love in the 4th Dimension
- The xx – I See You
Your eyes, like mine, may be immediately drawn towards Ed Sheeran’s presence on the list. There’s no disputing his third album was the most successful on the list – it’s 16 tracks dominated the single charts in a way no one ever has before. But this is the issue, it was not an album. It was a collection of singles that made very little sense as a cohesive unit. ÷ is a misfiring, lukewarm collection of pop songs, that dabbles in many genres, never conquering any. It’s appearance on this most heralded of lists, is frankly baffling.
I must set a few things straight here before I continue. I’m an Ed Sheeran fan. I own a physical copy of all of his albums, ÷ included, and went to see him play at the O2 back in 2014. I think he’s an immensely talented songwriter and think he deserved his position at the top of the Glastonbury bill – and he smashed it for that matter. I’m also a big admirer of the way the continues to ignore the ‘I’m too cool for Ed Sheeran’ brigade; and I too, usually bemoan this rhetoric.
The Mercury prize is special though, representing the last of the mainstream awards to pick purely on merit. Often revelling in choosing an album that is not commercially successful (Speech Debelle in 2009 for example). It is because of this it is held in such high regard. The Grammy’s reward success as well as acclaim – with the Mercury’s, it is just critical acclaim that matters. It can act as a springboard for albums that deserve to be heard but have not broken into the mainstream yet.
So then, for an album that was widely panned by critics to make its way on to such a hallowed list, fills me with sadness. The list this year seems very safe and Ed Sheeran is just the poster boy of this. Take nothing away from many of the albums on the list, however. Many of the entries deserve their place on the list.
In particular, Kate Tempest’s second album was one of my albums of last year, not only demanding your full listening attention but pulling in you into the world she creates. Loyle Carner’s debut is a sensitive album that has put the London rapper on the map. Glass Animals’ How to Be a Human Being, is a fusion of styles that is utterly engrossing. The Big Moon’s record is as good as indie rock and roll has been in many years. Gang Signs and Prayer, from Stormzy, was the grime success story to Skepta’s genre-defining breakthrough (last year’s winner) and is the favourite to win. Although, it will be robbing Sampha’s Process, the bravest album on the list. It’s a tender work dealing with grief and self-discovery beautifully.
Although not having listened to them myself, I have also heard good things about J Hus’s album and this year’s ‘token’ jazz album from Dinosaur. It is the final three: The xx, Alt-J and in particular Blossoms that feel very safe to me.
Alt-J and The xx are the type of artists you expect to be on the Mercury list, both are previous winners for their debut records. Their second albums are good, but not quite up to the same standard and it is for this reason I feel their inclusion is very safe.
Blossoms is another bone of contention I have, although not as bad as Ed Sheeran’s inclusion, as in my opinion they are a very over-hyped band that make very middle of the road music. There was nothing new or exciting to be found on their self-titled debut album. It just doesn’t seem to be in-keeping with the ethic of the Mercury Prize to have it on the list.
The award has previously heralded the dawn of grime with Dizzee Rascal’s Boy In Da Corner in 2003 and its graduation with Skepta last year, the age of Nu Rave with Klaxons’ Myths Of The Near Future in 2007 and all time classics such as Pulp’s Different Class, Arctic Monkey’s Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not and Primal Scream’s Screamadelica. Does Blossoms really deserve to be in such illustrious company?
It is all the more baffling when you see some of the albums that were left off the list: Rex Orange County Apricot Princess, Laura Marling Semper Femina, Idles Brutalism, Honeyblood Babes Never Die, Marika Hackman I’m Not Your Man and Gorillaz Humanz.
If I were on the judging panel, I’d be feeling a little embarrassed to be honest. Let’s hope the right album comes out on top on the 14th of September.
Apologies for the rant-like nature of this blog, I just adore the Mercury Prize and as a result have some very strong feelings about the nominees.