The Mercury Music Prize continues to be a curious hybrid of the commercial and the quixotic: increasingly, the eventual winner is a big-selling record; and yet the prize continues to shortlist acts of whom most people would otherwise not have heard. This year’s entrants in that particular club include Sweet Billy Pilgrim, whose music I’ve heard before, and The Invisible, whose music I have not. Anna and I both approve of Florence and the Machine, so of the likely winners Lungs would probably be our pick. I’ve been very impressed with the energy of Friendly Fires, too, but whether or not they’re the judging panel’s cup of tea remains to be seen; Anna’s been loving Two Suns, the second album from Bat for Lashes, but Natasha Khan’s been here before, and she didn’t win that time, either.
La Roux are talked of as favourites in many quarters, and they are surely in turn more interesting and more listenable than either Kasabian or Glasvegas, also mentioned as early favourites. (The success of Glasvegas in particular stumps me – what are they for?) It’s nice to see Lisa Hannigan on the shortlist, though, and her presence mitigates the, er, horror of having, er, The Horrors there, too. Hannigan fills the Marling-Hayes-Orton slot which never gives the prize its winner but does keep its credibility intact. The same goes for Led Bib, whom a quick Google reveals to be the (at first listen rather good) token jazz artist.
Tokenism mars the Mercury as well as being what makes it different to the rest. After all, in many ways, who wins matters less than who gets on the shortlist. I rather like that about the Prize, and if it has increasingly become a sales tool for records which get reviewed in the colour supplements of the Sunday broadsheets, it is at least always an award to which it is worth paying an iota of attention. More than you can say for, oh I don’t know. The Brits.