So last night the winner of this year’s Mercury Music Prize was announced as Speech Debelle’s debut Speech Therapy. I have to say that I was pretty underwhelmed by the decision: it’s not a bad album, but I wonder how many people will still be listening to it in a year, let alone 17 year’s time. Why 17? Because that’s how long the prize has been running.
To be fair to the judges, Debelle was probably as worthy a winner as any – looking at the short-list it’s hard to see any future classics: in fact it was probably one of the weakest selections since the prize’s birth in 1992. So, having had a look at all the winners since the prize launched I decided to pick what I think is the best winner of them all. And, in the end, I ended up back at the start.
The winner of 1992’s début prize was Primal Scream’s Screamadelica. Very few albums can claim to be truly iconic, let alone era-defining. Screamadelica can. With its blend of blissed out house and gentle rock & soul, Primal Scream provided a soundtrack to a million Saturday nights & Sunday mornings. The cover art became a badge for the rave genaration, like a clubbed up Watchman smiley. And they didn’t even include the amazing track that gave the album its name, which instead ended up on the brilliantly named Dixie-Narco EP and which you can see below: it’s good eh?
Since then there have been some other great winning albums, though scanning through the short-lists it does feel like more often than not, the best album has not been the winning one. Oasis’ Definitely Maybe, OK Computer & In Rainbows by Radiohead, The Verve’s Urban Hymns – all were left unrewarded – let’s not forget that in one year alone Parklife, Music For The Jilted Generation & Wild Wood were all beaten – by M People.
So if Primal Scream’s Screamadelica is the best ever winner of the Mercury Music Prize, which is the best album that was shortlisted but didn’t win? I’m torn between OK Computer, Parklife & Definitely Maybe. What do you think?
PS – Am I the only one who thought it ironic that in the same week the Mercury Prize was announced, T-Mobile, the brand that killed Mercury when it took over its One2One mobile operation, announced a merger with Orange which will see the T-Mobile brand itself killed off in the UK.
Screamadelica stained window by Gordon Watt on flickr