Saturday, 30 April 2011

Guest Blog: Jack Stewart's Mercury Challenge

Boredom is a terrible thing, and can so often drive people to do things they regret. For Jack Stewart of the wonderful Just Like TV blog, it meant the opportunity to listen to every album (available on Spotify) ever nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. Despite this harrowing experience, he was happy to offer Tones of Town a few thoughts on the experience:

Late last month I had another one of my ideas. I always have 'ideas'. You know the sort. They seem good at the time but once you put them into action you know you've made a huge mistake, but you're too stubborn to give in once you've started.

Thinking that it would be 'a bit of fun' and 'a laugh', I decided to listen to every Mercury Music Prize nominated album. Well, the ones that were available on Spotify anyway, which turned out to be around 60%.

The Mercury ceremony has always entertained me over the years. I like that there is recognition out there for great British albums and it's certainly given a lot of smaller acts a well-needed boost into the mainstream in the time that it's been running.

The merits of the winners have been well-documented so I won't cover old ground, but I thought I'd let you know the full extent of the torture that I went through, just in case anyone was thinking of making the same mistake.

First off, no, I didn't really discover any gems hidden in the Mercury collection. That's not to say that there aren't any, no. The majority of the greatest British albums since 1992 have been included in the shortlists, from Dummy, OK Computer and Parklife in the early years to the sounds of Asleep In The Back, In Rainbows and XX this decade.

My personal musical journey owes a lot to the Prize. My dad unearthed many classics because of it whilst I was still forming my tastes, and then passed them on once I became interested in music. Helicopter Girl, Goldfrapp, Tricky, The Delgados and Doves were all passed down purely because of the increased press and recognition that the nominations gave each artist.

There's a few albums that I listened to during what I dubbed the 'Mercury Challenge' which I will re-visit, but not many. On a first listen The Auteurs, Villagers, Mark Lanegan & Isobel Campbell all sounded like they had something else to offer.

As much as it was nice to listen to some classic albums, the Mercury Challenge was mostly a thankless task. Sting, M People, Spice Girls, Roni Size, Robbie Williams, Stereophonics and Richard Ashcroft all took the wind out of my sails, and that's just the first eight years. Some of the later shortlists were horrific. 2004 and 2005 in particular- the Keane/Snow Patrol/Joss Stone/The Streets/Ty/Amy Winehouse run in 2004 did not please me, and the Hard-Fi/Kaiser Chiefs double header in 2005 would be enough to destroy a lesser man.

But no. I, Jack Stewart, bravely battled on in the face of adversity. I took it all in my stride (well, aside from the odd despairing tweet) and I am proud to state that I completed my challenge last week.

They say whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. That's not true. I am scarred, I am bruised, I am weak and I am tired. But none of that matters, because I completed an entirely arbitrary challenge that I set myself, for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

For my next test I will listen to every track on every Now That's What I Call Music compilation. I'm a sucker for punishment.

Top Mercury Challenge tweets from Jack:

"I am officially listening to Stars by Simply Red. Two minutes in and the saxophones have started. Kill me."

"Two tracks into the Barry Adamson album and I've already heard 'negro' and 'gaping hole'."

"If you'd like to hear the worst song ever recorded, I'd suggest you look up Sting's 'Love is Stronger Than Justice'."

"Wrapping up 1997 with 'Spice'. Hold me."

"Pretty sure I'm listening to Robbie Williams singing about Charlie Sheen #losing"

"MJ Cole- Sincere. I sincerely think this album is a sub-Artful Dodger piece of shit."

"Hard-Fi. Remember them? No, me neither."

"Christ on a bike. It's another Dizzee Rascal album next. Not sure I'm strong enough to do this."

"Mumford & Sons are so shit it genuinely makes me angry. GET YOUR BANJO AND FUCK OFF, RUPERT."

"This is the kind of thing people do for charity, isn't it. Not something that people do just for the hell of it."

1 comment:

  1. Anyone reading this should also be listening to this fine gentlemans 120 Minutes playlist on Spotify, found here.