Thursday, 20 September 2012

Music: Keep or Cull No.15: Antony and the Johnsons - I am a Bird Now (2005)

The Mercury Prize is a bit of a strange concept for a music award. Each year an album is nominated by its judging panel as being the best album of the year with the remit that it must be a British or Irish act. Over the years there has been some notable head-scratchers, whether it’s Primal Scream’s Xtrmntr being absent from the list of nominees in 2000, or the prize being awarded to Speech Debelle in 2008 for her album Speech Therapy. With this, the Mercury Prize has also helped bring attention to obscure or unknown artists. I wonder where Dizzee Rascal or Badly Drawn Boy would be today were it not for the Mercury Prize? It’s a strange set-up, and I’m still not sure where I stand. One thing I do know is that awards in themselves are pretty meaningless; they are usually the result of a small committee with vested interests. But they are still entertaining, and if issues about contemporary music become a mainstream discussion point for a few weeks in a year, then where is the harm?

In 2005 the Mercury Prize came out with a bit of a left-field victor: Antony and the Johnsons’ I am a Bird Now. There were a number of reasons why this album seemed like an odd choice. Firstly, only a few musos who regularly flick through Wire magazine knew who they were. Secondly, there were some other excellent albums on the shortlist: Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm, and the Go! Team’s Thunder, Lightning Strike (the less said about Hard-Fi, the better). For me, I thought that the Go! Team should have won the prize: their album was innovative; they sounded like nothing else at the time; and each track on the album was brilliant. The inclusion of a band where most of its members did not fit into the remit of the award struck me as a bit odd, but I’m glad it was because I would have probably never heard such an inspiring and beautiful album. ...

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