BEST & WORST: Mercury Prize winners

November 1st, 2012

With Alt-J, Jessie Ware and Django Django (among others) in the running for the Mercury Prize tonight, we thought it might be useful to take a look at the best and worst of the controversial prize’s past winners – warts, nu-rave and all.

BEST

1. PJ Harvey, Let England Shake (2011)

PJ Harvey is the only musician to ever pull off the hat trick of bagging two Mercurys – once with Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea in 2001, and ten years later with Let England Shake. She was also the first woman to win a Mercury. Nice one, PJ.

2. Dizzee Rascal, Boy In da Corner (2003)

Cast your mind nine years ago, to a time before Dizzee went Bonkers and ended up doing the official Olympic Theme Song (yes, that happened; yes, let’s forget about it right now). British grime was considered the upstart little brother to the behemoth that was American rap – but everything changed with Boy In da Corner, which proved that Brits could spit with the best of them.

3. Portishead, Dummy (1995)

With their seductively sweet songs to make gloomy love to, Portishead were one of the foremost proponents of British trip-hop – and while the term isn’t used very much anymore, you can trace a direct line from the downtempo electronica of Portishead to the moody, minimal music produced by young ‘uns like The xx (who won their own Mercury 15 years later).

WORST

1. Speech Debelle, Speech Therapy (2009)

Whatever happened to Speech Debelle? Answer: she released an alright-ish album this year produced by Kwes, but she never quite scaled the heights of Mercury fame, with her debut peaking at number 65 in the UK charts even after she got the gong. In contrast, Lungs by Florence and the Machine (which lost out to Speech Therapy) spent 155 consecutive weeks in the UK Top 100.

2. M People, Elegant Slumming (1994)

The Mercurys got groovy with house outfit M People, which is completely forgivable seeing as the winner before were strutting glam-rockers Suede. Not so forgivable is the fact that in the process, the judges missed out on both Parklife by Blur and Pulp’s His ‘n’ Hers. Pulp eventually won two years later for Different Class, but Blur has (to date) never won a Mercury.

3. Klaxons, Myths of the Near Future (2007)

Remember when nu-rave was a thing? Like, an actual thing and not a sarcastic insult and byword for “that time in British music history when we tried to make rave come back but completely failed”? The Mercurys weren’t immune to the NME-induced national fever, either, which explains why they gave the award in 2007 to Klaxons, in the process overlooking Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black.

Words: Zing Tsjeng

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