For those of you who were unaware, the Mercury Prize ceremony for 2011 was held on the 6th of September and was won by the female intrepid artist PJ Harvey which marked the second consecutive year that a favourite has claimed the award, but the first time the award has been picked up twice by the same artist. The Mercury Prize had in previous years often been noted for picking an underdog or an outsider, often propelling the winner to greater fame, as was the case in 2009 with Speech Debelle winning unexpectedly. As noted in the previous article about the nominees, there was an eclectic mix of artists, helping provide another well-refined show.
PJ Harvey, who was the joint favourite along with Adele, claimed her victory for the Album Let England Shake which has been highly praised for the quality of the production, as well as the topical, relevant nature of the album to the British public. The victory was especially poignant as the award comes 10 years after her first victory, on the infamous date of September 11, 2001.
The 2011 ceremony was a brilliant showcase for the quality of female British singers of current times with Anna Calvi, Adele, PJ Harvey and Katy B all showing their credentials with stunning albums throughout the year. Despite Adele, who was unfortunately suffering from a sore throat, all of these artists made spirited performances and Anna Calvi’s rendition of ‘Desire’ was particularly strong and composed, and hopefully she’ll be an even greater force in years to come.
The experienced, veteran nominees were represented by Gwilym Simcock who’s performance was simply unique and again embraced the variety of the Mercury Prize and King Creosote, who was alongside Jon Hopkins in an odd collaboration that worked to deliver calm folk performing from their album Diamond Mine. Although their performance was not incredibly strong, it was a qualified success in achieving a coveted nomination that the artists themselves described as ‘unexpected’ and was a fitting celebration for King Creosote’s 40th studio album.
Tinie Tempah rounded off his prominent rise to fame at this new level with the nomination for the album Disc-Overy with his captivating performance on the stage and the hip-hop star was able to excite the audience as well. As was mentioned by one BBC presenter the album has now become the ‘sound of sub-urban Britain’ and gives him a platform for greater potential in the future.
Metronomy and Everything Everything both made their debut appearances at the awards with their third and first albums respectively. Metronomy made a strong impression, with a refined performance, with the band once again showing off there now trademark glowing stars. Overall this was a statement which may finally help the band break into a mainstream presence in the future. Everything Everything who’s music has been quoted as being symbolic of ’21st century sex music’ is a fresh and varied sound and was tipped by many as being the dark horse of the twelve nominations, and despite criticism of their overly experimental theme, they capped off a good year with the ghostly feel to the song ‘Tin (The Manhole)’
Elbow also made a dramatic spectacle, performing ‘Lippy Kids’ which captures the spirit perfectly of the full album Build a Rocket Boys! The 2008 winners were as deep as ever, and remained very strong contenders for the prize throughout. Also making an appearance was dubstep artist James Blake. His performance epitomised his cool persona and he helped to summarise the great variety of the Mercury Awards once more.
The show itself stuck to the successful formula it had employed in previous years, keeping up a good standard, even if it was only allocated 30 minutes by the BBC. All the artists were well analysed, with comments always coming back to how well rounded the Mercury Prize was with the great mix of artists on display. The consistent desire of the presenters to attempt to make themselves sound more sophisticated at every passing moment and the incessant nature of the lead presenter was annoying and although there could have been perhaps some more critical and varied opinion for the nominees, the show ran very smoothly.
There is of course only one winner and a landmark in this case with PJ Harvey winning. Many critics have mentioned this has not rewarded the progress and ingenuity of fresh talent, and while that may indeed be true, the album and artist are very much of a particular moment. The 41 year old remained a calm presence throughout the album and when receiving the award, yet the album speaks of a deeply conflicted world, focusing on war and death and the challenges Britain faces in today’s world, as well as still having a strong musical impact. The relevance and topical nature of Let England Shake are something that was almost certainly taken into account when the decision was made by the judges. And although Adele did not win with 21, that is going to remain one of the defining albums of the year, due not only to it’s popularity but soul within the album.
The Mercury Prize will always struggle with trying to balance popular music with a wide spectrum of influential artists, and we should not expect any prize to be the definition of the best album, rather a selective choice about the sound of a particular time.