• JC

When Bowie Killed Mercury


Okay so that's one of those misleading headlines, but if it's good enough for the tabloids then it's good enough for me. Click bait at it's finest!


So the Bowie in question is indeed the legendary and much-missed David, but the Mercury in question is not Farrokh but the Mercury Music Prize.


On the 10th January 2016, David Bowie passed away and the world stopped turning just for a little while. There is no question that it is one of the saddest days in music for many a decade and brought the end to a career that defined so many genres of music and influenced so many artists. We are blessed to have lived at the same time as the Thin White Duke and to have listened to his ever evolving catalogue of music.


So when the album Blackstar dropped just two days before his death the world listened. An it was a dark melancholic offering, which with hindsight should have rang some alarm bells. But at the time only his nearest and dearest knew of his imminent passing. So the album had chance to be reviewed as a 'normal' offering and not a posthumous tribute.


The preceding singles Blackstar and most notably Lazarus showed us that he had gone to a darker place than in previous outings, but that his genius was very much in tact. Lazarus in particular has become something of a farewell since his death and to this day I can't listen to it without welling up.

Anyway look, I'm getting off topic here, but to finish this part about Bowie's 'swan song' album it topped the charts in a number of countries, was met with critical acclaim and mass commercial success.


So fast forward to 4th August 2016 when the Mercury Prize Shortlist was released and it was no surprise that Blackstar was nominated. There were a few other worthy nominees and in any normal year the decision would have been quite a difficult one. But not this year......surely?


Historically the Mercury Prize hit the buffers in 2006 when it chose to give the award to the Arctic Monkeys instead of Richard Hawley. This is in-spite of the fact they were brave and brilliant just one year earlier when Antony and the Johnsons deservedly won for their incredible album 'I Am A Bird Now'.

Since then there have been notable poor decisions;

2007 - Klaxons won instead of Bat For Lashes

2009 - Speech Debelle won instead of Glasvegas or Bat For Lashes or Friendly Fires

2014 - Young Fathers won instead of Anna Calvi (one of the best albums in modern times)

I think you get the idea. And yes, I understand that music is subjective, but this is a big deal to some artists. The panel year on year are giving the award to artists that need a leg-up and not to the best album, thus completely losing all integrity. I am massively in favour of supporting new artists but not at the expense of others who have smashed it out the park.


So, to September 2016 and surely the most nailed-on award of the year. It was just a matter of getting through the show and making the inevitable announcement. Hey, hands up here, there were some good albums on display this year:


  • Laura Mvula - The Dreaming Room

  • Kano - Made in the Manor

  • Jamie Woon - Making Time

  • David Bowie - Blackstar

  • Anohni - Hopelessness

  • Bat For Lashes - The Bride

  • Michael Kiwanuka - Love & Hate

  • Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool

  • Savages - Adore Life

  • The 1975 - I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it

  • The Comet Is Coming - Channel the Spirits

  • Skepta - Konnichiwa


There were some memorable live performances on the night from Bat For Lashes, Laura Mvula and Anohni. Skepta did whatever it is that Skepta does and then up stepped Michael C. Hall (yes, the bloke from Dexter) who sang a version of Lazarus as a tribute to Bowie - and it was okay, nothing more, just okay.


So to the winner's announcement, and surely everybody in the room was just waiting for Blackstar to be announced. But NO......it was Skepta. SKEPTA! With one of the worst albums I have EVER heard. I get that it's making waves in the grime scene and I get that it means so much more than music to some - but it was an average album at best. One of the worst insults of the night came when Lauren Laverne (for whom I have masses of respect) said that Skepta's album would be "one that Bowie himself would have been proud". No. Just no.


Even if Blackstar was a poor effort it should have been recognised on that night. Even if it was a Greatest Hits, it should have been recognised on that night. But it wasn't, it was brilliant, head and shoulders above any of the albums on show.


For an awards show that was already struggling for credibility this was the final nail in their coffin and I'm not sure they can ever really recover from it. A panel of has-beens and wannabes are not the answer, clearly. It needs stripping from head to toe and give it back to a generation of musicians who deserve something better.


Shame on you Mercury, shame on you!


#album #vinyl #youtube #video #music #bowie #lazarus #batforlashes #richardhawley #mercurymusic #awards

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