TagLisa Hannigan

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: Lisa Hannigan – Sea Sew

Video: ‘I Don’t Know’

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County Meath’s Lisa Hannigan was, of course, Damien Rice’s singing partner, until he sacked her last year. But Hannigan is, I’d say, a much better singer than Rice, so a solo album from her was always going to be an intriguing prospect. I’d heard a couple of Hannigan’s songs, and they were catchy, folky numbers; and her performance on Later… with Jools Holland outshone all the others in that particular episode. So I was expecting Sea Sew to be good.

But it’s not good. It’s brilliant.

Listening to See Sew reminded me very much of the second Reindeer Section album, which grew on me by stealth until it became one of the most treasured records I own. I think there’s a very good chance that Hannigan’s album will do the same. Yet it’s hard to convey in words just what it is about Sea Sew that’s so extraordinary. Yes, this is a set of ten folky pop songs through which floats Hannigan’s delicate voice, singing her convoluted, oblique lyrics. And yet… there’s so much that that description doesn’t capture.

There’s the variety of sounds that Hannigan manages to encompass, from the bounce of ‘I Don’t Know’ to the quiet menace of ‘Keep it All’. There are the many subtleties, such as the way ‘An Ocean and a Rock’ bobs up and down on its melody like a boat, or the way that ‘Venn Diagram’ and ‘Teeth’ soar upwards so unexpectedly and magnificently.

(I must also mention the sleeve and lyric sheet, which were hand-sewn by Hannigan and her mother. Now that’s dedication to your art, a dedication that resounds throughout the music, too.)

Let me put it this way: I cannot listen to Sea Sew without ending up with a smile on my face and an uplifting feeling inside. I wish all music would evoke that strength of feeling, and I’m enormously pleased that I’ve found another album which does.

Video: ‘An Ocean and a Rock’ (live)

Read my other Mercury Prize 2009 posts here.

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