What's new in the land of royals and Radiohead? The editors of Britain's NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS whisk us their monthly report.

By James Oldham
September 20, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT

It’s September, and for those in the British music industry, that can mean only one thing. Yes! It’s time for the annual, totally incomprehensible fiasco that is the Mercury Music Prize.

From its humble, shadowy beginnings in 1992, this awards ceremony has mushroomed into the music biz bitchfight of the year. Its website proudly pronounces it ”the U.K.’s number one arts prize in terms of media coverage.” Of course it is. It’s a total scream.

Every summer, a panel of seemingly random judges (music critics and others) meet to thrash out a list of the 10 to 12 best British albums of the year. In the past, nominations have boosted sales, so once the list is made public, the wailing begins.

What needles commentators and record companies most is that the selection is perverse and absurdly PC. Oh, and the winner is always wrong. Previous debacles: In 1997, Radiohead’s OK Computer lost out to New Forms, Roni Size’s awful and, until its award, forgettable CD; and, in 1999, OK — Talvin Singh’s insanely tedious world fusion CD — triumphed.

This year’s contest looks to be another bloodbath. Among the usual baffling suspects — the jazz musician no one’s ever heard of (trumpeter Guy Barker), the token classical musician (pianist Joanna MacGregor), and the young upstart (David Bowie) — are three of the most innovative artists to emerge from Britain in the last year: sly-yet-sincere suburban garage rapper Mike Skinner, a.k.a. the Streets, wired R&B divette Ms. Dynamite, and psychedelic rock & soulsters the Coral. Each has made an album with hints of genius. Unfortunately, that means they all start this race at a disadvantage. Still, never mind. The moment the Mercury Music Prize goes to the person who deserves it is the moment the fun vanishes from the whole affair. This thing’s an institution — why let good taste go and ruin it?




BAXTER DURY — Len Parrot’s Memorial Lift (Rough Trade) The mesmerizing debut album from the son of the late great Ian Dury is about as far removed from his dad’s brash cockney output as could be imagined. Think Spiritualized and Mercury Rev.

COLDPLAY — A Rush of Blood to the Head (Capitol) The album that without a doubt will make Coldplay one of the biggest bands in the world. Echoes of U2’s Unforgettable Fire and Echo & the Bunnymen’s Ocean Rain dominate.

THE KILLS — Black Rooster EP (Dim Mak) Anglo-American two-piece who apparently are already doing good business over in the States. Like a catchier Royal Trux, they’re the scratchy, lo-fi outfit on everyone’s lips.