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or better or worse, it appears that the Shortlist Music Prize is here to stay. The ostensible goal of the prize is to “enable respected members of the creative community to share their cultural discoveries directly with the consumer, without an intermediary or filter.” And, formed in 2001, it has bestowed its honors on Sigur Ros in that year and in the subsequent two years to N.E.R.D. and Damien Rice. Along with the Mercury Prize in Britain, the Shortlist Prize attempts to highlight music releases that are artistically challenging and worthy of wider consideration. In fact, for the Shortlist, a record must not have sold more than 500,000 copies to even be nominated.
The Shortlist Prize is interesting because it’s picked, primarily, by other artists, allowing them to recommend some of their favorite lesser known releases, giving them another chance at more widespread recognition and, in the best case scenario, reach the Gold barrier for sales. Featuring a variety of different artists, the nominees appear to be well-balanced- a smattering of hip-hop, folk-influenced, rock and pop have all made the list and ensure a very interesting concert at the awards ceremony in November. But, before the concert, we have a large amount of time with the nominees—to examine, to plot, to calculate who will win the Prize and who will continue to languish in relative commercial obscurity.
This year Stylus got together and talked a bit about this year’s nominees, their records and their chances to win.
Dizzee Rascal – Boy In Da Corner
[read the Stylus review]
Dom Passantino: This is the only album where the artist has released a follow-up before the shortlist came out, so Americans are going to be getting a double dose of Dizzee Rascal this year. A bit like when Channel 4 started screening Will and Grace, except they were so far behind they got to show about four series back to back to catch up with the States.
Josh Love: Ah, what halcyon days those must have been for you Brits. I see exactly what you mean though. It's hard for me to compare BIDC with the others because I can't consult my handy anal-retentive Top Albums of 2004 list. I can tell you Ghostface is my 2nd or 3rd favorite album of the year and Loretta Lynn is my 4th, and that Dizzee was probably #5 or so for me last year, but cross-referencing is hard!
Bjorn Randolph: As a white middle-class suburban American, I would imagine that this album sounded to me like American hip-hop must have sounded to my parents: tuneless noise and incomprehensible yelling. I was totally unprepared for it.
After a few listens, the rhythms began to cohere and I slowly grasped Dizzee's accent. It's definitely one of my favorites on the list.
Andrew Unterberger: This is the album that should win, on the whole. "Sittin Here," "I Luv U," "Brand New Day," "Fix Up, Look Sharp," "Do It," "Wot U On"—even the bonus track is great. Some lesser tracks, but no filler (and nothing nearly as bad as the horrible tracks on the Streets album), and the singles—"I Luv U" and "Fix Up" especially—are chilling, innovative and exhilarating.
Also, like you said Bjorn, this is probably the only album on the list that I really had to work to love. Each time I listen to it, more of the album's brilliance comes to surface—the first time I listened to it I wrote it off entirely, but now I love almost all of the songs.
William B. Swygart: Think about this: British rapper wins US award. That would actually be kind of cool, wouldn't it?
Todd Hutlock: If by "cool" you mean "absurd" then yes. The American record industry has totally refused to embrace its most/only significant contribution to art and culture of the last quarter century (that would be hip-hop)—the Grammys, etc. managed to ghettoize it all by giving it its own token categories, as if it didn't deserve to be mentioned with "real music" like Paul Simon and Steely Dan. Sadly. The Shortlist Prize has done the same thing so far as well.
Nellie McKay - Get Away From Me
[read the Stylus review]
Todd Hutlock: This is my dark horse candidate.
Ian Mathers: On the one hand, it’s great, even if it hasn't aged terribly well. On the other hand, too much acclaim too early might be bad for her. As far as the music goes, I find "It's A Pose" a pretty big turnoff. Actually, I think the album would be immeasurably improved if it was one disc and had a couple songs taken off; definitely "It's A Pose" and "Clonie" but maybe also "Really" (why does this record not end with "Inner Peace"?) and "Work". The first disc is much stronger than the second.
Josh Love: Of all the "great" albums I've heard this year, this is probably the one I actually listen to the least. When I reviewed it for another publication I gave it an A-, yet there it is languishing in the mid-40s on my top albums list. It’s definitely one of those albums that's easier to admire from afar than actively love.
Andrew Unterberger: I've only listened to this album once, and while it seems like its cleverness would unfold upon repeated listens, I really don't feel like investing that much in it—it's just not my kind of music, too showtune-y. I'll admit that that's a personal preference, though, and not much of a statement on the quality of the album.
I think it has a shot—it's accessible but very different, in a way like a more theatrical Exile in Guyville, though perhaps not quite high profile or crossover enough to take the prize (but then again, Damien Rice won last year and disproved everything I just said).
Bjorn Randolph: It's interesting to see some of the tepid responses on this list, which don't surprise me at all in their respect-it-but-it's-not-my-bag tone. Genre-wise, this is easily the furthest from what Stylus tends to cover, and what the indie community goes for in general. (And don't tell me Loretta Lynn, either; I challenge you to find me a single indie-head who won't give mad props to old country and tell you all about his/her early Cash platters.)
Having said that, I find this to be far and away the most impressive record on the list. I've listened to it a lot, and I don't really listen to this genre, excuse me, these genres, much either. I mean, have you really listened to the rapping on "Sari"? Far from novelty or gimmick, she actually holds her own on the mic, just as she does with the myriad other styles she waltzes across throughout the two discs.
Granted, the double CD thing works against it; the album really is too long, as are most albums, even single ones, in the age of the 70-minute medium. And her youthful disdain for lyrical subtlety results in some serious cringers, most notably the girl-power screed "It's a Pose". But I find this is one of those rare albums on which even the flaws become part of the overall charm, and I can't help but smile at even the most embarrassing moments.
Also, I heard her playing solo in the studio on NPR (where else?), and she does the rapping while playing the piano. Incredible.
Todd Hutlock: I first heard NMcK on Letterman, the Friday before the album came out, playing the song about walking her dog and I was mesmerized. I spent a few hours on the Internet that weekend trying to figure out how her name was spelled even, so I could be sure to get the record when it came out.
When I said earlier that she was my dark horse candidate, I wasn't being tepid in my praise, at least I didn't mean to be. I rank her number 2 (right behind FF) out of this particular 10, and honestly, the other 8 behind her don't even come close for me.
I do agree with everything you've said here Bjorn, re: indie audience, etc. It is a little show-tuney for most. But I've heard plenty of praise for it as well... frankly, I was surprised at how much positive response this got from our core. I was fully expecting to be the one and only Stylus person who even heard this record, let alone really liked it.
William B. Swygart: “Sari” is frickin' incredible. Yes, this is my favourite out of the list.
Wilco - A Ghost Is Born
[read the Stylus review]
Andrew Unterberger: To me, this album is the quintessential "leave us alone" record of our time. Wilco really appear to not be trying to please anyone here—the people who enjoyed the experimental advancements made on YHF are only met with a couple of throwaway experiments—the 10 minutes of droning at the end of "Less Then You Think", maybe some distortion at the end of "At Least That's What You Said". Those who like the passion and hooks of their earlier stuff are also met with a total dearth of legitimate tunes—the songs here are so meek and hook-less that they're barely even there, just floating by on the sound of Tweedy's unusually wafer-thin voice. One successful experiment ("Spiders" is pretty undeniably great) and one pretty good rocker ("I'm a Wheel" is a reminder of how gloriously stupid Wilco used to be at times) are all we're really left with.
I think the only goal this album really could have had is to basically just say "you put all this pressure on us to follow up YHF, but we'll do what we damn well please, thanks".
If they had released an album full of the "Less Than You Think" air-conditioner noise, it still would've been nominated simply by the virtue of being "the new Wilco album", but that's as far as this one gets—I just don't believe an album this bland could win.
Josh Love: 100% agreed—I wish Fiery Furnaces would have made the cut instead of this.
Bjorn Randolph: Totally agreed; no matter what you think of the album, you've got to admit this is largely a reputation pick. The nomination is really a nod to Yankee, which surprisingly didn't make the cut in 2002.
Kyle McConaghy: Whatever the band's intentions, like you guys have said, Ghost Is Born is pretty uninspiring. If the quality was slightly more primitive, you could have seen this being the precursor to Summerteeth. I think the loss of Bennett was more of a blow than most expected.
Andrew Unterberger: Yeah, I agree with that—I think Bennett's contributions did a lot for Wilco's sound, and it's obviously missing on Ghost. I listened to Summerteeth once after a run of Ghost listens and I was just blown away by how lush it sounded in contrast with the disappointingly sparse (while, as you said, hardly being raw) Ghost.
Derek Miller: Yup. No doubt about it; Bennett may be missed by fans looking for Summerteeth's lush warmth as long as this band keeps chugging on guitar pyrotechnics. Still, has anyone heard his solo stuff?
Nate DeYoung: Acknowledging my fetish for Kraut-rock, I find myself compulsively playing “Spiders” on repeat and being quite satisfied with A Ghost is Born. But, as for the other 11 tracks, I'd say pick your bliss and follow it out.
Does Wilco need to be lush? This might be the ultimate 'leave us alone' statement and I'm misinterpreting their trajectory from YHF, but the album's spareness seems neither dull nor primitive. It feels like a pretty natural fit at this point. If Wilco's feedback loop with its audience was finally cut off with A Ghost is Born, who are they selling this album to? Smells like a Radiohead to me…
Andrew Unterberger: I'm a bit worried that you're right, that the sound does feel like a natural fit—it seems like this is the kind of album that Tweedy wanted to make, and now that Bennett's out of the way, he finally can.
Josh Love: The parallels with Radiohead are pretty apt—I think both bands are kind of stuck in a holding pattern right now, Wilco moreso than RH, but still you could argue that the most recent albums from both bands represent the first time in either band's career that they haven't logically progressed/evolved from the previous record (I'm considering Kid A and Amnesiac as one album in this equation since they were borne of the same sessions). The way I hear AGIB is just that Tweedy sounds spooked, really uncertain of where to take this band after all the hoopla/bullshit that surrounded YHF, and so consequently the whole record sounds kind of paralyzed by indecision, just very static and non-committal, and in a sense that's kind of compelling because Tweedy's whole shtick has always been this kind of earnest, well-meaning, mush mouthed guy who's kind of scruffy around the edges and just seems sort of beleaguered by everything. But it still doesn't make the record any more of an enjoyable listen.
The Killers - Hot Fuss
[read the Stylus review]
Derek Miller: This is the inclusion that surprises me the most. Half of this one seems to tread tepid water, though there are a select few great songs. As an album, it certainly doesn't warrant inclusion here.
Ian Mathers: Agreed. This is the one I would be most surprised/disappointed about if it won, no contest.
Andrew Unterberger: Part of me really wants to see this album win—it's not perfect, but it's a stunning listen, and the first four tracks is as fabulous an opening run as anything this year, just some of the most exciting modern rock in existence right now. I don't see why Interpol's first album got away with everything this album is getting called out for: the style over substance, the shitty lyrics, the lesser second half, when the good qualities of this album are just as thrilling as they were on Turn on the Bright Lights. "Somebody Told Me" and "Mr. Brightside" are two of the best singles of the year.
Todd Hutlock: I see your argument, Andrew, but there are some (maybe even many) of us who don't exactly think that Interpol "got away with" any of that stuff either.
Ian Mathers: I would have picked Interpol for at least the list last year. But Hot Fuss just has too many songs that grate, whereas TOTBL didn't.
Andrew Unterberger: The more I thought about it listening to it yesterday, the more Hot Fuss seemed analogous to Turn on the Bright Lights. It's paced identically at the start: mysterious opener, second single, swooning ballad, first single—and the flaws and strengths of the second half are practically identical. And for my money, "Obstacle 2" grates far more than anything on the Killers' album.
Derek Miller: I threw this album in the trash a while ago, and dumped used coffee grinds on top of it for symmetry. Honestly. I didn't wanna put it back on the market for fear of tainting the used-bin pool. For me, it wasn't so much the second-half letdown as the second-third of the album that seemed to get bogged down in tired Echo-Brit foppery and tuneless moaning. I actually thought some of the better songs were the final few. Still, I refuse to forgive their stadium-sized, Zippo-lit choruses at times...
Andrew Unterberger: With repeated listens, the second half of this album has become fairly unbearable—just like everyone said it was.
Even still, those first four songs...wow.
Loretta Lynn - Van Lear Rose
[read the Stylus review]
Josh Love: This one's an interesting case. I'd always kind of tacitly understood it that the Shortlist and awards like it were intended to spotlight deserving artists who could benefit from a little more name recognition. So how could a Country Music Icon like Loretta Lynn possibly need this kind of publicity? After all, I don't think anyone's made a movie yet about how The Killers grew up with dirt-poor daddies in the coalmines of eastern Kentucky. Then again, how high of a Q Rating does Lynn really have with the under-30 crowd? If claiming the prize will bring the kind of publicity that might help the winner pay off some college loans or upgrade to a nicer tour bus then certainly Loretta's the least "deserving" entrant, but I can't say I'd be disappointed to see her win, because Van Lear Rose is an amazingly powerful record, and it truly deserves to be heard by as many people as possible.
Andrew Unterberger: I like this album fair enough, but obviously the attention it's getting is more for her body of work and the connection with Jack White than because this album is really so spectacular. It's not, it's just quite good.
I'd put its odds of winning as only slightly lower than Franz and Skinner—the universal acclaim (95 on metacritic!) probably helps, and doesn't everyone love to pay respect to the legends? Still, some might be averse to anything country.
Todd Hutlock: If this were the Grammys, I'd agree with that logic of sentimentality, but I get the impression that the Shortlist is trying to sort of be the Anti-Grammy. I look for Loretta to get her due from the Academy proper in February.
Bjorn Randolph: Bringing up the Grammys is important here because if Lynn wins I think there's a danger of the Shortlist Prize evolving into a sort of de facto lifetime achievement award. The Grammys have been doing this for years (Steely Dan, Tony Bennett; remember the Jethro Tull fiasco? "Voodoo Lounge", people?!?), and the Oscars do it all the time with the Best Supporting awards.
Due respect to Lynn and to the album, but Andrew's right: she's listed here for her entire career and for the Jack White connection, and not for what the Shortlist really ought to be about: honoring an innovative new artist whose creative breakthrough might have gone otherwise underappreciated. I think the idea behind the prize is to establish something akin to Britain's Mercury, and Lynn's winning would go against that.
Josh Love: I don't think anyone should hold the fact that Loretta's been awesome for 40 years against her. Like I said before, she deserves the exposure just as much as anyone (if not the attendant profits), Van Lear Rose has been exceedingly well-received in critical circles, but it obviously hasn’t really translated in terms of sales, in fact I'm certain the likes of Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, Wilco and Air have sold far more.
Honestly, I also think if you're gonna apply the "innovative" label to the nominees, then half of 'em shouldn't have even made the cut, at least not the bands I mentioned above, maybe only Dizzee, Nellie, The Streets and TV on the Radio sound really "innovative" (the latter in a not-so-positive sense).
TV on the Radio - Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes
[read the Stylus review]
Todd Burns: Perhaps the most original sounding American release on the list?
Derek Miller: Yeah, I'd agree with that hands down. With that said, I think it stands next to zero chance of winning the award.
Todd Hutlock: I agree with Derek, precisely because of the reasons stated by Mr. Burns.
Not coincidentally, it’s the same reason why I think Franz Ferdinand will win....
Josh Love: Nellie McKay's *sound* may not be original, but her shtick definitely is. And Ghostface has always been a universe unto himself, lyrically Pretty Toney might not be as "original" but that's only because it's been done before by Ghost himself.
I know Todd's just trying to spark some debate on this album though, because I'm sure he doesn't think "original sounding" really has much bearing at all on the quality of the music.
As for TVOTR, I liked "Starting at the Sun" but the album as a whole was just too bombastic by half and didn't really move at all. That barbershop tune "Ambulance" was nice though.
Ian Mathers: I still think their cover of "Mr. Grieves" is the best thing they've done to date.
Kyle McConaghy: Agreed. While The Young Liars EP is one of my favorite releases of last year, I think Desperate Youth might have been picked to diversify the Short List Prize nominee selections. They indeed have one of the more unique sounds on the list, but there were tons of better releases this year.
Josh Love: Listened to this for the first time in a while last night.
Man, does it suck.
Just utterly grooveless and lumbering—it moves slower than a fat man with clubfoot.
Nate DeYoung: This does seem like the slowest album on the shortlist by a long-shot. But, I would still find it hard to label "The Wrong Way" grooveless or lumbering. In fact, up until “Poppy”, TV on the Radio sound pretty convincing as the prime-candidate that proves rock has not died and gone to nu-metal.
Air - Talkie Walkie
[read the Stylus review]
Derek Miller: Another retroactive inclusion for missing everything else they've done?
Josh Love: Talkie Walkie was a solid album. Speaking as an Air neophyte, I definitely enjoyed it, though I don't put it on nearly as often as I should.
Edward Oculicz: I personally hate Air. "Sexy Boy" was coolly arch, but everything else, no. That being said, every track on this album is a winner. Does anyone other than the French do sinister love songs as well as "Cherry Blossom Girl" anyway? It'd be my pick, anyway.
Andrew Unterberger: I actually think this might be my favorite album of theirs. I always thought that Moon Safari was one of the most overrated albums of the 90s—a couple really good songs than a lot of airy fluff. I actually preferred 10,000 Hz Legend, but this is even better—I especially dig the M83/laptop-shoegaze influence on some of the more electronic tracks. Not nearly the Moon Safari-lite (egads!) that most critics had me expecting.
I don't think this has much of a chance of making it--like Derek said, it's more of body of work type inclusion than for this album in particular—but Air has always had mass appeal for critical types, so I wouldn't totally count it out.
Todd Hutlock: I pretty much count it out just because I don't think the band have the same "buzz" around them anymore that some of the other groups do, but I agree with Andrew—I love this album and I think it is their best long player (although the early singles pre-Moon Safari are still my favorite stuff of theirs).
Derek Miller: 10,000 Hz Legend still gets my vote, and I've come to believe it's the best thing they'll ever do. Check my review of Talkie Walkie for my thoughts on the matter, though I'll cop to having warmed to the album more than previously imagined. . .
Nate DeYoung: Although I'd like to steer clear of pop-psych Pink Floyd-stoned comparisons, Talkie Walkie does seem to be scatter-shot in a way only a pop album can be. From the stunning opener “Venus” on, I think this album doesn't maintain any sense of consistency. But I'm happier for it. If I can get an “Alpha Beta Gaga” every couple years or so, feel free to bash my head in with it. God bless the geeky whistle!
A commenter on Derek’s review, however, might have the most interesting thought I’ve read so far: "Are they gonna be the Robbie Williams of chill-out?"
(Woah. Will anyone tell me how I should react to that?)
The Streets - A Grand Don't Come for Free
[read the Stylus review]
Todd Hutlock: Seriously, if this wins, how foolish will the voters look in a few years when this sounds as dated as a carton of milk? I can see the critical reassessment coming a mile away...
David Drake: A mile away? I loved it when I first heard it and I'm already tired of it.
Josh Love: It really is the loveliest, sharpest, most emotionally nuanced story I've "read" all year, and I think Skinner's just about unparalleled as a narrative lyricist right now, but the music just does not hold up at all. "Fit But You Know It" is getting WAAAY too much of a push on best-of singles lists because it's the only thing on this album that's remotely replayable, but seriously, compare it to "Stand Up Tall" or "Rubberband Man" or "Yeah!" I mean, seriously!
Alfred Soto: I don’t know about that. I was NOT a fan of Original Pirate Material, and this album is much better, although I’ve realized it's a love-or-hate situation. "Dry Your Eyes" is as well-observed and lovely a breakup song I've heard all year and "Blinded by the Light" is one of the best songs about rolling. "Not Addicted" also gets heavy rotation on my mix CD de jour.
Josh Drimmer: "Not Addicted" is actually pretty unlistenable to my ears, which is the reason I, to my great surprise, might actually prefer Original Pirate Material: yes, I love the concept, love many of the songs, and definitely believe Mike's upped his game, but OPM has superior beats. Sure, AGDCFF's closing two songs are better, by leaps and bounds, to anything off OPM. But with tracks like "Such A Twat" and "What Is He Thinking?" I just had the feeling too much concept, not enough decent backing music was a big problem here.
Andrew Unterberger: I sort of agree with that. For me, it's a lot like OPM was—a couple of truly brilliant moments surrounded by a lot of filler-y tracks that weren't much tolerable past the first listen or two. Still, it's the brilliant tracks that make this—"Blinded By the Lights" is one of the most devastating tracks of the year, "Fit But You Know It" is one of the most fun and "Dry Your Eyes" (especially with the great video) has revealed itself to be a truly classic ballad. I'll listen to the individual songs more than I will the whole album, but my total impression is a mostly positive one. I'd rather see this brilliant but heavily flawed album take the prize than FF's uniformly good debut.
David Drake: Both Josh's are absolutely correct.
Ian Mathers: I dunno, I agree with Andrew more. I agree it's flawed, but if this is an album award, I think this should get it, because it works better as a whole than anything else on the list. I'm also in the group that loves "Not Addicted", though, so my tolerance for the sound here may be higher than average.
Josh Love: All I know is I picked it up the other day for the first time in a couple of months, listened to it all the way through and quite enjoyed the experience, then promptly shelved it away again, where it'll probably stay for at least another 3-4 months before I pick it back up. That's where the lit comparisons make the most sense to me, because no matter how much I love a story I'm not going to want to read it everyday, and likewise with this album I don't feel like there's anything there compelling me to listen to it again and again like *most* great pop music, just a good story I'm inclined to revisit every now and then.
Ian Mathers: But why should the fact that it's a different kind of enjoyment than a pop album be held against it?
Andrew Unterberger: Listening to this album yesterday, I actually found that the effect of the songs I loved was diminished by being surrounded by all those shitty album songs—"Get Out of My House" and "Such a Twat" being the worst offenders. The rap opera or whatever aspects of the album are by far the worst. If he had focused on making an album of songs of the calliber of the three singles instead of having the plot (which is kind of thin to begin with) tie together, it could've been as great as everyone says it is.
Kareem Estefan: I can't say I agree that Skinner should have sacrificed the plot for better songs, but it's true that only about half the album is worth weak points like "Not Addicted" and "Get Out of My House." With a closer like "Empty Cans", though, I never feel too unsatisfied with the album as a whole—if the story is occasionally interrupted by unenjoyable songs, it closes with one of the most precisely and touchingly articulated scenes in music (or other media). Hearing the narrator mature on that track is an epiphany every time.
Ghostface – Pretty Toney Album
[read the Stylus review]
Josh Love: I'm kind of surprised this is the Token Mainstream Hip-Hop candidate instead of Kanye West's The College Dropout, but I'm glad to see it's less overlooked than I'd assumed, it seemed like no one's been talking about it for months now, maybe because it sold practically nil and "Run" pretty much flopped as a single. It’s still probably the best hip-hop album of the year, but it doesn’t have a snowball's chance in hell of winning.
Alfred Soto: "Run" gets my vote for hip-hop single of the year, and shreds anything Mike Skinner's ever recorded. Let's be honest though: this is one more solid Wu album, an album which for better or worse plays to a cult that in 2004 will never again buy enough of its product to put Ghostface and friends back in the limelight they enjoyed in, say, 1995.
Josh Drimmer: I love this record, even though in my heart of hearts I know that Supreme Clientele did everything this one did and then some...well, maybe it didn't do anything like "Tush," which MUST be discussed within any talk of Pretty Toney (my diagnosis: shockingly good), but still. I never thought Ghostface would be the sole (or, soul?) survivor of the Wu's collective fallout. Unfortunately, this album went wood, so we'll see how long Def Jam really believes in Ghostface. His character in the Def Jam Vendetta still has phat moves, though.
Andrew Unterberger: I was surprised how much I liked this album—probably because it sounds so different from the Wu sound I'm accustomed to. No dark alleys here, no kung-fu references, no guest rappers from the Clan. The album's sound is disarmingly warm, even, and it works perfectly. "Run" is as great as everyone else says, "Biscuits" and "Tooken Back" not far behind.
Does it have a chance at the prize? No, of course not—not nearly high profile enough and probably still a bit much for some too light-hearted for his tales of sex, drugs and guns. A token rap nod that it was, in my opinion, extremely lucky to get.
David Drake: The reason Kanye didn't get it was because he went platinum, yes?
Anyway I love this album, and Andrew's right—it's so different from past Wu releases, including Supreme Clientele, so I don't think it's fair to suggest that it's merely a "good Wu release." Even the RZA tracks don't sound particularly Wu-Tang.
Todd Hutlock: Gimme "Protect Ya Neck" any day of the week over anything on any of the solo albums. They will never top their debut in my opinion, and besides, I gave up trying to keep track of all the solo albums years ago.
Wherefore art thou, Big Baby Jesus?
Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand
[read the Stylus review]
Derek Miller: This one's got my vote. Fifteen years hence, this will still be potent.
Todd Hutlock: Here's your winner, as it should be.
R. S. Ross: I don't know. The simple, disco backbeat and perfunctory bass lines leave only the guitar and vocals as (potentially) interesting. The guitar and vocals are slick (similarly so, at that) on the two singles, but the rest of the album is only so-so.
Edward Oculicz: Very good singles. Some good album tracks like “Auf Achse” and “40 Ft.” but…not the best album of the year.
William B. Swygart: The only one I've listened to all the way through thus far. I bought this and Free Me by Emma Bunton on the same day. Baby Spice wipes the floor with 'em.
I feel a bit backlash-y about it, somehow, because there's not any single song on there I could particularly highlight as bad or whatever, but as an album... it's just not all there, is it? One at a time, fine, but you get so bloody tired of it ALL SOUNDING THE SAYEEEEEEM in one sitting. If this is the best they can come up with as The Best Album Of The Past Year, they either haven't looked hard enough or need their ears cleaning right out.
Dom Passantino: I can't think of another band of recent times wherein style has been successfully marketed as content as with Franz Ferdinand.
Derek Miller: I think at a certain point you have to compare these albums to everything else on the list, and attack it from there. Certainly, we all know this wasn't the best album released in the past year, or the most deserving of such an award, but if you compare it to the other options, what seems more deserving on there? Dizzee Rascal? Air?
Josh Love: I think you answered your own question, Derek. Yes, Dizzee Rascal is much much better, as is Ghostface, Loretta Lynn, Nellie McKay, Air, and probably a couple of others.
Todd Hutlock: Clearly all of you disagree with me on the merits of Franz Ferdinand. I still think they’re going to win.
Todd Hutlock: Franz Ferdinand. Because this is the best album out of the 10, and it will still be great later. I already think some of the others sound a bit dated...
Alfred Soto: C'mon, Todd, you really think Dizzee's album sounds dated? Sure, Showtime proves Dizzee's master of a particularly irritating brand of soundscape—as compelling as RZA's for the Wu Tang or the Bomb Squad for Public Enemy—but this album does what great music does: it makes one nauseous, moorless and a bit stunned that you could be moved so thoroughly. He may yet reveal himself to be as shallow as 50 Cent, as the weaker songs on Showtime ominously prove (songs about bitches, his manhood, yawn); but he's too self-aware and, again, too imaginative an arranger to settle for mediocrity. I mean, if Showtime is his idea of a mainstream hip-hop album, Kanye West better just go ahead and pack it in.
Andrew Unterberger: I don't think the sound of Boy in Da Corner is going to date particularly well—it sounded thin to me upon impact, and that’s what initially made me dismiss the album like I did. But I still think it works brilliantly on a couple tracks ("Brand New Day," "Fix Up Look Sharp," "I Luv U") and his flow and lyrics are so unbelievable that it makes up for it and then some. Really, Dizzee would deserve the prize for "I Luv U" alone.
Ian Mathers: Either the Streets or Dizzee should win this, for completely different reasons. Sentimental fave for me is Skinner, but I certainly wouldn't be upset if Dizzee takes it.
Josh Love: Either Ghostface, Dizzee, or Loretta. I think the reason Dizzee might be a little "dated" for me is simply because he's released another, better album since then, not because BIDC itself has aged particularly poorly or anything.
Sentimentally I'd like to see Loretta win just because I think it's a wonderful album that's been overlooked in the indie community (which after all is the main demographic this whole competition is geared towards).
In terms of who most deserves the exposure in general, I'd probably say Nellie since Loretta's already a legend, Ghostface is hip-hop royalty and Dizzee's gotten more pub in the last year and a half than just about anybody.
Bjorn Randolph: On one hand, I think Nellie McKay's is the most original, most challenging (and, just as importantly, rewarding), and most purely talent-drenched on the list. It's also one of the most underecognized; I'm amazed she hasn't garnered more word-of-mouth hype since the album's release.
On the other, and I hate to get all Fugazi here, she'll have the Sony promotional machine behind here for at least the next couple albums. She got the Beatle's engineer to produce her. She just doesn't need to win. And from that point of view, I'd like to see anyone on an indie label, someone who could really use the money, take home the prize.
Should that matter?
Josh Love: Just because she's on Sony doesn't necessarily mean more sales or more money backing her and, as you said, no one's really been talking about her lately, which means that even if she does have a huge promo machine behind her, they're doing a horrible job getting her name out.
Todd Hutlock: I agree—Sony is just as capable of mishandling artists and providing little to no promotional push as anyone else, and they seem to have done it here if you ask me.
Also, I'm sure I could get actual sales numbers and you would all likely be shocked as to how low they really are. I remember hearing that Mercury Rev's Deserters Songs (which topped a few million year-end charts that year, if you all recall) had only sold 35,000 a full two years after the record was released.
Todd Hutlock: Franz Ferdinand. The Mercury Prize already down, this is theirs to lose—like the Golden Globes to the Oscars, you know?
Josh Love: I don't know Todd, maybe the smart money's on Franz, but I think the Shortlist folks might be eager to blot out the memory of sadsack Damien Rice's win last year by handing the prize to a truly left-field candidate like Dizzee or The Streets. I don't even like the "Ferdies" and I still acknowledge they're way less safe than Damien, but the ballsier move would be to give it to someone a little more cutting edge, and I think the Shortlist might consciously want to go in that direction to prevent people from writing them off as Grammys Mk. II.
Todd Hutlock: Good point—but I don't see Dizzee or the Streets getting it. Maybe Wilco as a second choice. I know, they're only slightly less predictable as a pick than FF, but I really think these things are pretty predictable on the whole. FF has that "timeless" feel to it that those types are looking for and that, among other things, i's why they're my pick.
Andrew Unterberger: I don't read this "timeless" business at all, Todd—it's as clearly a modern rock album from the first half of the 00s (the post-Strokes universe, if you will) as they come. It's a very good album, but there's not much that's great about it ("Take Me Out" excepted, a surefire top ten, perhaps top five single of the year for me). It's just a solid modern rock album, and as such I just don't think it's exceptional enough to merit the Shortlist Prize—I think Skinner's got odds on this. But then again, Damien Rice, right? So I guess you never know.
Todd Hutlock: Well, "timeless" in this context meaning "A classic-sounding guitar rock record." Those tend to go over well with people voting on awards and things. But you all have some good points too, so we'll see.
William B. Swygart: For some reason, my gut instinct is TVOTR or Nellie With An 'ie'.
It is inevitable that, one day, Mike Skinner is actually going to win an award of some sort. This seems as good a place as any.
Dom Passantino: The real winner here is the fans.
By: Stylus Staff
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