When the shortlist of nominees was announced for this year’s Mercury Music Prize it brought a chorus of ridicule from many observers, who pointed at yet another nomination for the Arctic Monkeys, the presence of the less-than-innovatory Noel Gallagher and Lily Allen’s opinion splitting comeback No Shame.
“Bands…..I see bands!” seemed to be one of the common themes, as if the idea of shared performance were dead, whilst those sneering at the judges’ favouritism for the Sheffielders forgot both that Radiohead have received five nominations (with PJ Harvey four) and that Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino was a definitively brave and challenging record.
Maybe the message the list is really giving is that the album is becoming an ever more niche format, but the presence of young Londoners Wolf Alice on the list of possibles should’ve been less controversial. Their second album, Visions of a Life toughened yet commercialised the quartet’s appeal, singer Ellie Rowsell slipping between the indie-pop chanteuse, fuzz pedalled shoegazer and Riot-Grrrl activist from song to song, straddling the oblique line between modern femininity and feminism whilst capturing much of the quartet’s fearsome live energy.
The merits of any winner can be argued, but Visions of a Life was one of the year’s strongest candidates and at last night’s ceremony duly collected the award. As Alexis Petridis commented wisely in the Guardian, the problem with a limited pool of nominees is that it can denigrate the achievement for the winners, but for Wolf Alice it was hardly a concern. That the Mercury still has the power to raise controversy, keeping the aural wallpaper of the music you hear on commercial radio out of mind if only for a minutes, should still also be cause for a minor celebrations all round.
You can read a full review of Visions Of A Life here.