Is the Mercury Prize 2013 shortlist ‘too commercial’?

Laura Mvula in WFUV studio, by WFUV (Apr 2013) (585x329)

If it was any other awards ceremony, commercial success would be applauded. But it’s the Mercury Prize, so, naturally, it’s another reason for the pundits to get their soapbox on.

There are no obligatory ‘token’ albums from folk and jazz acts this year. And no indie starlet, sneaking in at the last minute to become the bookies’ favourite – as The xx and Alt-J have done in the past.

So no wonder the pundits have latched on to what is, admittedly, a relatively safe list, populated by a number of previous Mercury nominees – David Bowie, James Blake, Arctic Monkey and Jon Hopkins among them. The list also features classically trained soul singer Laura Mvula, all female rock group Savages, new empress of folk Laura Marling and Jake ‘Am just a lad from Nottingham, like’ Bugg.

But while some may find fault, this year’s Mercury Prize selection presents a strong set of albums, and, what’s more, highlights that the UK dance scene has felt a huge serge that’s not only been well received commercially, but artistically as well.

Disclosure and Rudimental have been at the forefront of a dance and house renaissance, which has seen both of them headlining festival stages to enormous crowds. And along with other producers such as Bondax, Julio Bashmore, Breach and Joy Orbison, it’s been nigh on impossible to escape the pull of UK dance music in 2013.

By putting in the debut albums from Disclosure and Rudimental, the Mercury judges have acknowledged this movement. These two are among my personal favourites, and I can see them becoming staple soundtracks for reminding us all of all the things we got up to in 2013 when this year has gone.

Yes, the selection could have been different. And it could have done with more first-time nominees (Rachel Zaffira, London Grammar). But to fuss about the chart and/or commercial success of this year’s nominees is to miss what is perhaps a more interesting possibility: That the music-buying public have actually had a strong taste for albums that weren’t all guaranteed success, but which the Mercury judges, and the majority of the music press, would agree are first class in quality.

I doubt there are many outside of the music business that will have listened to all of the albums on the Mercury shortlist. Whether it is an odd-ball, grower of an album or a catchy commercial joint headed for classic statue, the Mercury’s frequently points you to something fresh. And this year’s list is no exception.

Image: Flickr/wfuv

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