TagThe Invisible

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 Invisible – The Invisible

Video: ‘London Girl’

The Invisible, a trio from London, are the first really obscure act on this year’s Mercury shortlist; and the first thing I’ll say is that they don’t deserve to be obscure. Their music is quite hard to describe, but I’ll have a go: guitar-based, yes, but drawing on elements of jazz, soul, dance, and probably a few other styles as well.

Anyway, it might difficult to capture in words, but this music is certainly interesting to listen to. Some songs take unexpected turns, like the opener ‘In Retrograde’, which starts off with a minimal ‘nursery-rhyme’ backing, before bursting halfway through into something odd and spooky. Others take a particular sound — like the funk of ‘OK’ or the dance of ‘London Girl’ — and make it ‘coalesce’ into a continuous whole (I’m not sure if that truly captures what I mean, or if it will make sense to anyone else, but it’s the best description I can think of).

There are a couple of moments on The Invisible that don’t quite work for me, such as the spiky guitars on ‘Spiral’ — which I guess are meant to reflect the title of the song, but had a nails-down-blackboard effect on my ears. I think the biggest weakness of the album, though, is that Dave Okumu’s vocals tend to fade into the background a little too much. Perhaps, of course, that’s the intention, so that they become part of the texture of the record; either way, I still think the album would be stronger if the vocals were more prominent.

That said, this is a grower of an album that could be a strong contender for the Prize.

Video: ‘Monster’s Waltz’ (live)

Read my other Mercury Prize 2009 posts here.

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