What's the Mercury Prize's problem with rock?
Another year, another Mercury Prize nominations list, another round of moans from rock fans complaining that their music isn’t represented
But really, perusing this year’s candidates, said fans have every right to fulminate, rock ones especially. Because there isn't any. Any what? Rock.
Seemingly for the umpteenth time since the Prize began, “classic”-style rock has been disregarded by the Mercury panel. The list is - what’s a polite way to put this? - boring. Since the nominees were announced, some have argued that this year’s Mercury Prize is relevant once more, that it has rediscovered its mojo. Maybe if you like ethereal warbling or ambient jazz or whatever, but not rock (actually, fans of kraut and more esoteric forms of dance music are directed towards The Comet Is Coming’s Channel The Spirits, one of the more exciting albums among this year’s lineup). And no one would argue with David Bowie’s nomination for Blackstar, but that’s an elegiacal and haunting meditation on the finite nature of existence, not a classic rock album
We’re particularly narked this year up here at Team Rock Towers because The Struts’ self-titled debut album didn’t make the cut. It’s a superb album stuffed to the gills with proper rousing rock songs, but more than that it's everything the list should be rammed with but patently isn't: fun, flamboyant, full of vim and vigour and dumb, brash, innocently delinquent thrills. And it’s not as though Derby’s finest don’t allude to Mercury-type pleasers in their music: you can hear in it echoes of the Primals, Oasis and Supergrass - all bands that would have automatically made the grade in the past. There are also doffs of the cap in their three-minute knees-ups to all-time great purveyors of anthemic stomp’n’roll such as Slade and Queen.
Okay, had the Mercury Prize been around in 1972 the judges might have bypassed Slayed? in favour of Roxy Music, Ziggy Stardust et al, but would they really have failed to include A Night At The Opera in 1976? We think not. We wouldn’t mind, but The Struts’ admission into the hallowed portals of 2016’s Mercury Prize would have made perfect sense in this, the year that sees a glam resurgence - bands like Giuda and LemonTwigs, even tomes such as Simon Reynolds’ forthcoming glam treatise Shock And Awe: Glam Rock And Its Legacy. Instead, they chose to studiously ignore them - “studious” being the operative word for most of the theoretically interesting but actually dry and enervating music on the shortlist.
Still, when you think about it, it’s probably better not to have been voted in by the panel. No. The Struts should be true to the renegade spirit of Classic Rock, and remain on the outside. Or as the band themselves might put it: Kiss This.