Saturday, July 26, 2008

Mercury and Mad Hatters

I was in the Portland Basin museum in Ashton-under-Lyne yesterday afternoon, and amidst the depictions of ye olde Tameside life (long before it was called Tameside of course), and examples of industrial heritage, there was a little display case that pointed out that the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland wasn't purely fiction, since hatmakers frequently became poisoned by the mercury used in the hatmaking process, and would appear drunken, and incoherent. Which seems a nice segue into this years Mercury music prize, for drunken and incoherent are some of the epithets flung at this mid-yearly attempt to boost sales of some of the years best British albums. But as always, far better that it's drunken and incoherent than boring and respectable. I've already been listening to four of this year's shortlist, so I can hardly complain about it, even if the one glaring omission, M.I.A.'s "Kala", seems a little inexplicable, unless, since its been around a while now, its wilfulness had gone from sounded fresh to sounding annoying. Judge Jude Rogers (which could be a good title for a tv series...) has entered robustly into the debate in the Guardian, praising the number of albums on the list this year, not by first-timers, but by artists who have always been well-respected, but only now are getting into their stride, such as Elbow and British Sea Power. It's a good point, well-made, though perhaps notable that neither of these albums have ever had a "Chelsea Dagger" style singalong hit. The hit, I think, can sink even the best of bands. My favourite on the list is Rachel Unthank and the Winterset's folk album "The Bairns" not least because of its inclusion of Robert Wyatt's "Sea Song", but I'd put your fiver on Burial. whose 2nd album "Untrue", though perhaps not as much "shock of the new" as his debut, has enough about it to become a 21th century "Blue Lines" or "Screamadelica," though Elbow's introspective melancholia might be just what Britain in 2008 is looking for.

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