The most important time of the year in music has arrived again. Every year, a panel of music industry experts come together to discuss what definitively is the best album of the year. The panel this year is composed of experts such as Radio 1’s Clara Amfo, musicians, Marcus Mumford and Jessie Ware, and various music journalists. Critics are quick to dampen Mercury spirits and question the relevance of the prize in today’s industry of streaming and the declining popularity of albums. However, I believe the prize still to be an important showcase of the best British talent, and it has imprinted success on many past winners like Alt-J, Arctic Monkeys, The XX and Skepta.
Here is my analysis of this year’s nominees:
Nadine Shah- Holiday Destination
Nadine Shah’s style screams Mercury. Her vocals and instrumentation is very reminiscent of PJ Harvey; also of Anna Calvi, another previous Mercury nominee. The album is also highly political and doesn’t hold back at all. A vote for Nadine Shah would be a vote against the current political system, and we know the Mercury’s are not afraid to do this.
Holiday Destination holds a modern take on the post-punk musical movement. The whole album feels angry, the instrumentation is harsh but tightly-organised, almost reminiscent of a collection of film scores. Yet, the sound remains beautiful accompanied by Shah’s enchanting vocals, creating a surprisingly relaxed chant-like effect. This album stands out in today’s music scene, as holding a great deal more meaning and craftsmanship than most. Therefore, Nadine Shah stands a very good chance of scooping the prize.
Stand-out Tracks: Yes Man, Holiday Destination, 2016
Arctic Monkeys- Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
If this album wins it will probably be the most controversial victory ever, seeming as it is one of the most divisive albums of recent times. However, it is has received a huge amount of critical success, and it is one my personal favourites of the list. I have chosen it as one of the two frontrunners because the album is daring and pushes boundaries of expectations, and the judges will love to reward this. It is also a highly political satirical album, so a vote for this album would also be a vote against today’s political system.
Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino invites listeners to a dystopian science-fiction future. Both Alex Turner’s vocals and the instrumentation is pared back, and the focus is all on the lyrics. And the lyrics are GOOD. I was delighted at Arctic Monkeys’ stylistic change and I’d be delighted if this album took home the prize, making them only the second act to pick up the prize more than once, after PJ Harvey.
Standout Tracks: One Point Perspective, Golden Trunks, The Ultracheese
Jorja Smith- Lost & Found
Jorja Smith really is the musician of the moment. A mercury winner has to have a certain amount of ‘hype’ surrounding the artist, and she is the only name that screamed out to me in the same way that previous winners Sampha, Alt-J, The XX and Benjamin Clementine. She is an artist at the start of her game and is getting people talking. Plus, she has also earned a decent amount of commercial success already with her lead single ‘Blue Lights’ getting mainstream radio airplay, and she has recently announced a nationwide tour playing at sizeable venues.
Lost & Found is a beautiful album which tells personal stories, lead by Jorja’s stunning vocals, accompanied by some really interesting production. This would definitely be a worthy winner. The only thing holding it back, is perhaps Smith has become overexposed in the industry, and critics would think others deserve the spotlight for a change?
Standout Tracks: Teenage Fantasy, February 3rd
Also in with a chance!
Wolf Alice- Visions of a Life
Wolf Alice have been British critical darlings since they very began, and this album has brought them even more success. If you think solid contemporary indie music, you think Wolf Alice. A win would be no surprise at all, but perhaps this at their detriment. The Mercuries like to honour groundbreaking, different music that makes a statement. And whilst Wolf Alice have made something outstanding and beautiful, they might be a too obvious choice.
This album encompasses a variety of tones and styles. From the angry, grungy ‘Yuk Foo’, to the sassy ‘Beautifully Unconventional’, to the totally lovestruck ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’, this is an album for all occasions and moods, and one that I would recommend to lovers of any genre of music.
Standout Tracks- Don’t Delete The Kisses, Space & Time, Beautifully Unconventional
Sons of Kemet- Your Queen Is A Reptile
Ah… the token jazz act, the pride and joy of the Mercury Prize. Yet, despite a nomination every year, they somehow never win and always end up at the bottom of the bookies predictions. Well, I’m going wild this year and predicting that London-based five piece, Sons of Kemet are in with a good shot. At some point the token jazz act has to win, why not let this be the year, especially when Sons of Kemet manage to make a very powerful statement with their album.
The eponymous trailer-track screams Mercury, it’s funky, it’s weird, it’s anti-monarchy and its socially challenging; in fact, it’s very Benjamin Clementine. Sons of Kemet have far more substance that what one might think, their music is very powerful, and takes influence from other genres. The tracks take titles after black women from history who more effectively represent the BME population, than the Queen of England or “the reptile”. This definitely an album that could oppose this year’s particularly mainstream selection.
Standout Tracks: My Queen is Harriet Tubman, My Queen is Ada Eastman
Lily Allen- No Shame
I was open-mouthed when I saw this nomination. After Lily Allen’s first two albums were Mercury snubbed when she was at the height of her popularity, I didn’t even consider her as a contender for this year’s awards. But Lily’s latest offering No Shame is outstanding and I am overjoyed to see it get the recognition it deserves. Even though it has very minimal chances of winning, this nomination suffices as a response to the hefty amount of criticism Lily Allen gets.
No Shame goes places that most albums do not, and is incredibly powerful. The lyrics are as frank as humanly possible, the album resembles a digital autobiography. Topics covered include her depression, her sex life, her relationship with the media, her parents and her regrets as a mother. The album is produced by Fryars and contains multiple features from rappers, this is a ballsy, solid offering that doesn’t get boring despite its length. It also contains Lily Allen at her happiest in love on track ‘Pushing Up Daisies’ which is a suprising, glorious thing to hear.
Standout Tracks: Pushing Up Daisies, Three, Come On Then
Everything Everything- A Fever Dream
Everything Everything are one of the most talented bands around and are a torchbearer of musical experimentation. Their latest album saw them take a moody spin on their usual uplifting, lively sound, and of course… they went political. But this album is far more interesting than many of the faux-politique albums going around currently. The title track is an explicit reference to bombings, and the album repeatedly refers to death, war and greed. Fun stuff indeed.
This is their second Mercury nomination following from their less-structured debut album ‘Man Alive’. The new tracks are astonishing live, and the bass brings goosebumps, adding to the raw atmosphere of the album. They show a real masterclass in musicianship. It’s a shame Everything Everything are often taken for granted in the music industry, as simply an accessible, Radio 1 friendly indie band, where their experimentation is mistook for ‘quirks’.
Standout Tracks: Ivory Tower, Put Me Together, Desire
Florence and The Machine- High As Hope
Yes Florence is generally a fantastic being, and her live performances remain glorious, but this particular offering is simply not deserving of a nomination. High as Hope is not a bad album at all, but it is just far less impressive than her others. Unfortunately, there is zero musical progression shown in this album, and she doesn’t take listeners to any different places from ‘How Big How Blue How Beautiful’. Yes, it is delicate and the lyrics are very personal, but that doesn’t hide the fact this album is in some places quite boring. Florence and The Machine’s music is getting dangerously close to parodying itself, but maybe that’s why the Mercury’s like it, because they are simply in love with Florence and her vision for the world.
Standout Tracks: Hunger, Grace
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds- Who Built The Moon
This is an outstandingly, unprecedently bizarre nomination. When Noel made his solo debut, he made an impact; critics were never ecstatically on board, but his first couple of offerings were commercially successful and respected. However, this album didn’t create a buzz at all, it will be largely forgotten in his discography. Noel himself already largely forgets about it in his tour setlists for the same album. Therefore, I’m struggling to think of a reason as to why this album would be nominated, especially as his first solo nomination too. The only reason I can fathom is that Radio X’s head of music is on the panel this year, and maybe thus demanded a traditional indie act to be included among the more interesting choices. Who knows.
Standout tracks: It’s A Beautiful World
The remaining nominees are ones that I don’t see standing a chance of winning, but nor was I particularly surprised in seeing on the shortlist.
Novelist – Novelist Guy : Coming from previous years dominated by grime, this is surprisingly the only grime act this year. It’s a decent, honest album, but nothing overly groundbreaking.
King Krule- The Ooz : I personally am not a fan of King Krule, but I do see the appeal and his talent. However, the hype behind this artist finished a fair time ago. There’s nothing new here.
Everything Is Recorded- Everything Is Recorded- Collaboration project from XL Recordings’ Richard Russell, including features from last year’s winner Sampha and Kamasi Washington. Strong, varied album, but it isn’t representative of a specific artist or a movement, so is unlikely to make any impact.