The shocking events in Paris two weeks ago have rather rendered newspaper columns as glib and redundant. However, whatever the reasons, the world keeps turning and allowing normal life to stop is exactly what terrorists want.
Instead, inevitably, music has somehow edged its way into the hard news. David Bowie’s sax player has announced that a track on the formerly Thin White Duke’s forthcoming album is “about ISIS”. And trust Morrissey to get his oar in, claiming that record label Universal scuppered his plans to release ‘I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris’ as a single, with the excuse that they are planning their own tribute album to the city. Which if true seems churlish at best.
Meanwhile, the Foo Fighters have released an EP, ‘St Cecelia’ (reviewed, right). Frontman Dave Grohl has of course been an occasional member of Eagles of Death Metal, who were playing at the Bataclan on the night of November 13th, and his plan to raise funds for the victims will only enhance his ‘nicest man in rock’ tag (not that I’m suggesting that he’s doing it for anything but the ‘right’ reasons – nice guys don’t).
So, the musical world continued to turn after a bit of a jolt. And the Mercury Music Prize ceremony went ahead.
Like last year’s winners, Young Fathers, 2015’s prizewinner was also a relative unknown. The odds on Benjamin Clementine’s collection of torch songs tumbled in the few days leading up to the ceremony, and his win prompted the NME to ask “but is it any good?” – the former music paper not having reviewed the album when originally released owing to the space being assigned to a feature on beard grooming products (probably).
What the NME makes of it (or anything without a ‘marketing’ budget) is largely irrelevant – the free printed version of the rag had Justin Bieber on the cover the other week, after all. And suggestions that the one-time Paris busker’s win was down to a sympathy vote for our friends across the channel have been largely limited to social media.
What sets the Mercurys aside from The Brits and The Brats (the NME equivalent) is its seeming self-awareness – the chosen album making a statement about The Mercurys. Its coolness perhaps, despite being heavily sponsored by a massive financial institution. Justin Young of The Vaccines criticised it as as appealing to the “cafetiere drinking, Kentish Town-dwelling 6 Music listener”. No, he wasn’t nominated as it happens. But he may have a point. Getting the nod from the judges recently: Roni Size, Talvin Singh and Speech Dabelle (me neither), with Franz Ferdinand perhaps the only recent winners to have produced a unit-shifting pop album. Of course, time was when M People and Blur would lift the trophy – hardly the One Direction of their day but not exactly underground either.
The truth is perhaps that there were no really obviously great albums on the list. That’s not to say that 2015 was a bad year for music, after all, what with (insert your own favourite here). But more obscure choices will inevitably render the Mercurys less relevant to a general public which, given the chance to make their own minds up, probably has more important things to think about.