TagBat for Lashes

Mercury Prize 2009: Conclusion

I’ve come to the end of my journey through this year’s Mercury Prize shortlist (if you’ve missed them, my individual posts are here), so it’s time for some final thoughts, and a bit of pointless-but-I’m-going-to-do-it-anyway speculation on who might actually win.

My favourites

I must say I’m pleased that all the shortlisted albums have their own distinctive sounds, and work well as albums rather than just collections of songs. Having said that, there is one album on the list that stands out to me as being that bit more complete and well-crafted – so Lisa Hannigan is my pick of the shortlist. (Second place goes to Sweet Billy Pilgrim, whose album is of a broadly similar standard, but is let down by one track.)

Who will win?

Last year, the judges and I agreed over which album was best; but I suspect that won’t happen again this time. I find it hard to envision the quiet craft of Lisa Hannigan winning out over all the other contenders; but of course I’ll be delighted if proved wrong.

What of the others, then? I think the Prize is a very open field this year; it’s extremely difficult to mark out particular albums as being obviously stronger (or weaker) contenders. Nevertheless, I think we can discount a few straight away: I don’t hear anything in Led Bib’s album to make me think they will blaze a trail by becoming the first jazz act to win the Mercury. And the Kasabian and La Roux albums are the patchiest on the list, so I think the judges will find better candidates than those.

Taking the remaining acts in roughly descending order of fame: Bat for Lashes and Florence and the Machine are almost two sides of the same coin; combine the best aspects of both and you’d have an excellent album. As it is, I think both are in with a good chance; but I suspect the greater dynamism of Florence’s album will give her the edge.

Turning to the better-known guitar bands, Glasvegas are probably the most conventional act on the list; that may lessen their chances in this field, good as their music is. Friendly Fires are likewise good at what they do, but I think the judges may go for a more varied album. The dramatic atmosphere of The Horrors’ album probably gives them the best chance of the three.

That leaves three acts who were largely unknown before the Mercury nominations (hopefully they will not remain so for much longer!); and I think The Invisible, Speech Debelle, and Sweet Billy Pilgrim are all in with a shout. Sweet Billy Pilgrim may have a slight edge, but all three are genuine contenders.

It’s a tough call, but I have a feeling that, in the end, it will come down to a contest between Florence and the Machine and The Horrors, and that Florence will take it.

Of course, I’m just guessing here, as I’ve no real idea what the judges will think. But I do know this: the Mercury Prize in 2009 is a genuinely open contest which both the best-known and most obscure acts have the potential to win. I look forward to hearing the announcement tomorrow night.

Mercury Prize: Bat for Lashes – Two Suns

Video: ‘Pearl’s Dream’

Bat for Lashes is Brighton’s Natasha Khan, whose first album was nominated for the Mercury Prize back in 2007 (but didn’t win). I’ve often meant to give her music a proper listen; this marks the first time I have heard one of her albums in full. And… Khan has a beautiful voice that suits her style of music perfectly; Two Suns is epic, diverse, mysterious, full of texture – all these are things that I like in music. Yet the maddening question that kept niggling me as I listened to the album was: why am I not enjoying this more?

Well, the song on Two Suns that I keep returning to is the lead single, ’Daniel’. It’s an absolutely fantastic song that sounds as though it came from the playlist of a high-school disco in the Land of Faerie – and knowing that it’s about the Karate Kid reduces its power not one bit. But it also sticks out like a sore thumb for me, because even after several listens to the album, it’s the only song on there that really stays in my mind properly.

Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t mean to say that the rest of Two Suns is forgettable, or leaves no impression – on the contrary, the album as a whole leaves a very strong (and favourable) impression. But the music I love best gets into my mind and stays there, comes back to the surface every now and then to be hummed or sung along  to. Two Suns is great while I’m listening to it, but most of it doesn’t stick afterwards.

I am impressed with the diversity of the album; it covers a lot more bases than I expected it would. There are many great moments: the way that ‘Glass’ builds from a simple a cappella vocal to a thudding crescendo; and the soulful call-and-response of ‘Peace of Mind’, to name just two… I like Two Suns very much, but I don’t love it. And I very nearly loved it, which is what frustrates me all the more.

Video: ‘Sleep Alone’ – live

Read my other Mercury Prize 2009 posts here.

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