It’s that time of year again – the Barclaycard Mercury Prize 2014 shortlist has been announced. As always, it’s a stellar lineup, showcasing the crème de la crème of British music, with the likes of Royal Blood, FKA Twigs and Damon Albarn (yes, he is nominated and is “very happy” to be so) expected to be the front runners for the award. Before we go any further though, we’d like to express our disgust that Wild Beasts haven’t been nominated for this year’s Prize, with Present Tense not only one of the strongest British albums from the past year, but from the past decade! Nevertheless, this week’s #TopTenSunday looks at the last 10 winners of the award, and we rank the albums accordingly. These are, purportedly, the best British albums from each of the last 10 years, so invariably there are some absolute belters in here. Regardless of how prestigious you believe the Mercury Prize to be, it has the potential to be an enormous springboard for new or underground artists, and is always a proud display of the quality, influence and relevance of British music.
10. Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid (2008 winner)
Guy Garvey described this Mercury Prize win as the “best thing that had ever happened” to his band. The upsurge in sales and profile for a band that had already released 3 superb albums prior to 2008 would certainly validate that view, but just as a little sundry, Elbow also got away with touring this record for what seemed like forever.
9. Antony and the Johnsons – I Am A Bird Now (2005 winner)
As far as increases in profile following a Mercury win go, Antony Hegarty and his Johnsons jumped 119 places (from 135 to 16) in the UK Albums Chart in just one week after achieving the gong. The win brought about a small amount of controversy, with certain circles questioning the album’s eligibility for the prize due to Hegarty being born in Britain, but living and recording out of New York.
8. Speech Debelle – Speech Therapy (2009 winner)
When London rapper Speech Debelle beat the much-fancied Florence and the Machine and Bat For Lashes to the prize in 2009, it was considered one of the award’s biggest surprises. The record had not even entered the UK Top 40 at the time, but Corynne Elliot drew great praise for her record’s freshness and individuality, and for her sugary delivery of abrasive subject matters.
7. alt-J – An Awesome Wave (2012 winner)
In An Awesome Wave, alt-J’s diversified patterns of sound are woven together in a remarkably dexterous fashion. The band release their follow up to their compelling debut a week tomorrow, and if their Mercury Prize winning effort from 2012 is anything to go by, expect incredibly smart alt-pop songs that are dangerously catchy, and impossible to categorize into a given genre.
6. James Blake – Overgrown (2013 winner)
Last year’s winner of was another relative surprise, beating the likes of Disclosure, Laura Mvula and David Bowie to the Prize. Overgrown is a place all to easy to get lost in, where weighty reflections from Blake’s desolate electronic soul show his abilities as a composer to their fullest extent. It’s alarmingly isolated and intimate, with an autocratic, wintry minimalism ruling supreme.
5. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (2011 winner)
Let England Shake showed PJ Harvey at her fervent best, incandescent with passion and animosity. Her 8th LP from a stellar back catalogue was richly inventive, and unlike anything else in it, and to this day Polly Jean Harvey is the only artist to have won this award twice, with 10 years separating the Prizes won by Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea and Let England Shake.
4. Klaxons – Myths of the Near Future (2007 winner)
Klaxons came along on the crest of the new-rave wave, creating a precarious, weird and wonderful world with their debut LP. The genre (and the band themselves) has moved on since 2007, but that doesn’t take anything away from the importance of Myths of the Near Future, which invariably splashed vivid colour all over an indie landscape that was nothing more than magnolia in 2007.
3. The xx – xx (2010 winner)
2010’s winner was another debut album that received widespread critical acclaim. xx was the gap in your music collection you didn’t know you had before you heard it, with its delicate, smoldering duets manufacturing a frightening intimacy. The record is uncommonly sophisticated and poised, with its disclosure and assertion far outstripping the band’s youthful years.
2. Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand (2004 winner)
This debut was the embodiment of a modern classic, and notched the Mercury Prize 10 years ago. It was punky, suave, funky and breakneck cool, with its spiky guitars and intoxicating, garage-tinged swagger capable of getting even the miserable masses gyrating. Whether Alex Kapranos was deploying his unsettling croon or his more urgent clamor, the effect was outrageously seductive.
1. Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006 winner)
Almost 9 years on from their iconic debut, Alex Turner and Co. are now considered, in many circles, as one of British music’s most valuable commodities, but it all started with this generation-defining LP, as raw as a French bloke’s steak, with lyrical content and delivery far surpassing the band’s fragile years. The songs are strikingly relatable even today, and the record undoubtedly laid the foundations for the band to become the refined force they are today. I don’t think it would have had any bearings on this lot’s career if this record had won the Mercury Prize or not, but it would have been a travesty if it hadn’t have.