Nice chap, James Blake, but what is the point of the Mercury Prize?

Plus, is it just me or is John Williams' 'Stoner' not the party it was cracked up to be?

Share

So dubstep pioneer-come- soul crooner James Blake has won the Mercury Music Prize. And though not the bookies’ favourite I wouldn’t take bets on many being surprised by Blake’s victory either.

The soft-spoken 25-year-old whose second effort, Overgrown, was deemed the best British album of the year, has all the qualities we should now find predictable in a Mercury winner. A nice young man, classically trained, Blake makes a brand of electronica at once inventive and palatable. If you’re not familiar with it, expect layered synthesisers, rich vocal melodies and minimal electronic drums: a sound which some call modern and others find not vastly dissimilar to the noise Brian Eno and Roxy Music developed in around 1972. In short, the kind of music both acceptable to listen to at a summer music festival and to find residing in the CD player of your Mum’s car (I speak from experience).

Blake accepted the award with characteristic humility – gracing the podium for a mere 30 seconds to make the faintly ludic utterance “I’m going to thank my parents for showing me the importance of being self-sufficient”. The kind of declaration, one presumes, that might just have easily made by an abandoned orphan searching for words in praise of an absent parent.

Elsewhere, Oxford-based rockers Foals were thankfully on hand to offer up some much need comic relief – though even that was spiked with a fractious, familial flavour. When asked on how it would feel to beat fellow nominee David Bowie, frontman Yannis Philippakis said simply, “it’d be a little bit like punching  your Dad”.

What is the point in the Mercury Music Prize, family feuds aside? Originally labelled an alternative to the Brits, those recently awarded the £20,000 – PJ Harvey, The xx and Elbow – are all signed to major labels and don’t desperately require the cash or exposure.

It does serve one clearly definable function: to inspire ire in those who aren’t or, in some circumstances, are nominated. In a moment of brilliance, Damon Albarn-fronted Gorillaz called for their eponymous debut album to be retracted from the 2001 nominations. The reason? Winning, said the band, would be, “Y’know sorta like carrying a dead albatross round your neck for eternity”. 

So good luck, James Blake. The world is all before you and the Gorillaz wish you and your albatross all the best.

Classic isn’t what it used to be

I don’t mean to be cynical (transparent lie), but am I alone in thinking John Williams’ rediscovered classic Stoner wasn’t really, well, that classic? This “perfect novel” – overlooked on its publication in 1965 – now leads the shortlist of Waterstones Book of the Year, thanks to critical resuscitation from the likes of Ian McEwan and The New York Times Book Review.

Like many others, I imagine, I read too much into the title and came expecting a riotous, weed-smoking romp through the swinging Sixties. More fool me: beatnik splifferature Stoner emphatically isn’t. Light on sex, gags and drug-use, the novel charts the tortured progress of a trounced English professor in Missouri during the first half of the 20th century. It has the grim charm of a Thomas Hardy and all the narrative ambition of a Victorian novel to match – though regretfully it's a book happily oblivious to that slight but important movement which preceded it, Modernism. Still, in age where Morrissey can monumentalise himself beside Melville and Molière, who am I to judge a classic?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UX Consultant

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working with a 8 st...

Recruitment Genius: Part-time Editor

£8000 - £12000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Executive

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exceptional opportunity has arisen for a pa...

Recruitment Genius: Kitchen and Bathroom Installers

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of designer kitch...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The economics of the stock market is simple really: buy and hold

Ben Chu
Jeb Bush's campaign will emphasise both his conservative record as a former governor of Florida and his commitment to building a more inclusive Republican Party  

American democracy is up for sale, and it’s a warning to us all

Shirley Williams
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border