Mercury Music Prize 2008 – The Nominees: In Depth Part One Radiohead and Burial

Over the next few weeks I shall be having a more indepth look at the 2008 Mercury Music Prize nominees, examining the music and their chances at victory.

Part one is Radiohead and Burial…

Radiohead – In Rainbows  Latest Odds 9/2

The 21st Century has witnessed Radiohead at the forefront of musical innovation. Constantly evolving and challenging their fans and critics alike with maddening left turns and an almost hedonistic indulgence in the avant garde and generally strange. Few bands on the verge of Stadium filling mainstream success would take similar risks with their music but for the most part it has been a successful experiment. With critical and popular success both achieved In the post Ok Computer period.

This success has been mirrored in the Mercury music Prize itself. With Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief being nominated for the award in 2001 and 2003 respectfully. However the alienating sounds of both albums and Radiohead’s mainstream reputation have conflicted judges and failed to provide Radiohead with a Mercury Music Prize.

This could all change this year, with the relatively ‘safe’ In Rainbows up for nomination. Heralded by critics and fans alike as their best work in a decade, which in my opinion is a little harsh on the Kid A – Hail to the Thief period but a valid statement nonetheless to the quality of the album itself which can easily hold its head high alongside the best of their work.

In Rainbows is easily one of the, if not the best album of the past 12 months; British or otherwise. From a strictly critical point of view it’s hard to imagine anyone else winning but this mightily album. It is the sound of Radiohead finally comfortable once again with not necessarily challenging boundaries but rather settling inside them and simply making great songs. Getting rid of the needlessly experimental indulgence that sometimes scarred Hail to the Thief and also dropping the political belligerence that compromised their lyrics.

Instead Thom and co are far more sensual and heartfelt. Going back to writing songs about life, love and the various other shades of emotion rather than lashing out at the Bush administration or heralding the apocalypse.

It works beautifully and the album is beautifully sensuous. From the frenzied wall of guitars with Bends like ferocity, of Bodysnatchers to the soulful vocals on Reckoner it may not necessarily be the best album Radiohead have done post 1997, but it is the most well rounded and ‘whole’.

However, as is the case with most panel decisions, the choice will not necessarily be the judges favourite. It will a compromise and you can never tell if the judges will decide to pick a surprisingly left field choice to grab headlines, ala Antony and the Johnsons in 2005; Or if they’ll come to a more honest and fair one. The early odds have them as frontrunners along with Burial and Elbow, but time will tell.

MP3: Radiohead – Wierd Fishes/Arpeggi

Burial – Untrue  Latest Odds – 7/2

Burial’s Untrue is a tough nut to crack. It’s sparse, very sparse. It would be easy to write it off as ambient ‘mood’ music, destined to be the soundtrack to a thousand Pretentious arty types dinner parties. But it’s something much more than that

Untrue is extremely evocative. It‘s one of the few albums that sounds like a very specific area – and I don’t mean in the sense of say, sounding Spanish because of the use of flamenco guitars – Untrue sounds specifically like the small strip of ’inner suburbia’ that encircles any major UK city. It sounds like a midnight journey through the areas at the end of the Tube, the shadowy recesses of tower blocks and estates that sit in the shadow of the dizzying lights of the big city.
And perhaps because I live in a place very much like this. Just out of the reach of the city but definitely not in a area that could be described as ’rural’ that this album does it for me.

The album is so hard to describe in a traditional sense. The music seems to be composed entirely of memories and places rather than in a more conventional method. It sounds like a 21st rendition of Eno inspired electronica, intersped with Garage, Jungle and Dubstep. Seemingly random bursts of deep, heavy basslines and disembodied ’chipmunk’ vocals intrude the dreamy soundscapes. Burial skips carefree, interjecting some songs with combatively ‘pop’ sensibilities and others are unforgiving dense and offer very little on initial listens, but repeated listens will be rewarded – if you have the memories to go with it.

Infact; I’ll just shut up because this description from another review (That I unfortunately cannot source)

“Untrue is not the streaked neon and glitter bomb buzz of the West End in the early hours. Nor is it the melancholy romantic sweep of city possibilities so beloved of outsiders. No, Burial has soundtracked the London night out beyond tube lines, the shadowy hinterlands of South London Boroughs. The stuttered shops, graffitied underpasses, the smashed bus shelters and abandoned cars of the endless suburbs. You feel as if you are wandering dazed through the early hours of a Sunday morning. Half-heard mobile phone conversations, reverberations of bass bins in passing cars, snatches of dance music drifting in the air. The lonely sound of a distant tower block party heard coming up through the piss stained lift from six floors below.”

As for it’s chances for a victory. Surprisingly; it’s the favourite. As I have mentioned before the panel do have a tendency and a history of choosing quite left field choices. But this is very left field. However, it does have a huge critical weight behind it and a relative populist appeal to it, in comparison to Portico Quartet and Rachel Unthank anyway. It could prove to be the perfect compromise for the judges.

MP3: Burial – Etched Headplate

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One response to “Mercury Music Prize 2008 – The Nominees: In Depth Part One Radiohead and Burial

  1. Nice Burial review, I have been a big fan of them for years. Their music really takes you on a journey

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