Tag: The Horrors

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: The Horrors – Primary Colours

Video: ‘Who Can Say’

What did I know about The Horrors? I knew they were from Southend, and that Primary Colours was their second album. I’d never listened to them first time around; but there seemed to be a broad critical consensus that the new record was both very good, and a significant change in direction.

To test this out, I decided to give the début a listen first. Let’s just say that we didn’t get along. But it’s Primary Colours on the Mercury shortlist; and that album is a dark, moody, melodramatic species of rock. Perhaps that’s inevitable from a band with a name like ‘The Horrors’ and a singer like Faris Badwan, who doesn’t so much sing his vocals as intone them. But there’s more variety than you might expect (even a three-minute pop song, in the title track); and there’s a furious energy to the playing that stops it all feeling ridiculous. I can see without doubt why someone might love this record.

But I didn’t.

I don’t know why, but there’s something about this album that stops me from getting into it. Perhaps it’s the way the music seems to turn in on itself, whereas I prefer music that opens outwards (if that makes any sense at all). Whatever, the end result is the same. Don’t get me wrong, there are still moments that catch my ear — I keep humming along to ‘Mirror’s Image’, for example; and there’s the way ‘Sea Within a Sea’ transforms over its eight minutes into what sounds like an attempt to recreate the soundtrack of a ZX Spectrum game. But still, I find Primary Colours a difficult album to like.

Video: ‘Mirror’s Image’ (live)

Read my other Mercury Prize 2009 posts here.

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