Well, yes. UK rockers Elbow have won the Mercury Music Prize for their album The Seldom Seen Kid at a ceremony concluding just minutes ago in London. The annual award, judged by a committee of critics and industry types, is given to the best album by a UK artist that year. As I covered earlier, Radiohead’s In Rainbows was the odds-on favorite to win, and by “odds-on” I mean actual odds, since this is England, after all. Elbow were tied for third-most-likely-to-win with dubstep mystery man Burial, whose Untrue brought that underground movement to the masses in a way similar to what Roni Size Reprazent did for drum ‘n’ bass with New Forms, which won the prize back in 1997. In any event, Elbow were apparently quite surprised, with lead singer Guy Garvey calling the award “the best thing that’s ever happened to us.” Better than, like, being born? Wow. The band have a middling level of fame in the UK but are barely known over here. So, what’s the deal?
The band call themselves “prog without the solos,” which is kind of true; there are elements of dream pop at work here, lovely vocal harmonies swimming around in a mix of swirling guitars. NME‘s review of the album could barely contain itself, calling the album a “masterpiece… an awe-inspiring labour of love that both soothes and swells the soul,” while Pitchfork gave it a 7.8 (since they give everything a 7.8), calling it “visceral,” but acknowledging that there may be a problem for Americans without finely-honed UK rock senses allowing one to distinguish between Coldplay, Keane, Travis, etc. That’s my problem as well; while there are soaring, emotional moments, this is pretty traditional music, with pianos and 3/4 time signatures, and my jaded ears need something to wake them up. Perhaps a cup of tea and a rainy day might help elucidate The Seldom Seen Kid‘s more subtle pleasures. I will say, looking at the history of the Mercury Prize, that even if the eventual winner wasn’t the most ground-breaking (or my favorite), it’s always worth a listen, and so Elbow have my attention, for now.
Elbow – “Grounds for Divorce”