The Ivor Novello Awards – which took place yesterday (17 May) – are the responsible adult of the prize-giving calendar. The brief is always the same: songs assessed for lyrical content, musical brilliance and cold hard popularity, and then Gary Barlow wins.
The category for Best Song Musically & Lyrically is where the real prestige lies, parsing songs down to their bare bones and honouring the one that, presumably, shows up flawless. This year it’s Ed Sheeran’s ‘The A Team’. That can’t be right, can it? Here’s why.
‘Musically’? It’s ordinary
Sheeran’s near-one-man-band approach is admirable but some things are too simple. ‘The A Team’ has a hook – a hook that nags, that never gives the shiver the finest pop songs conjure, that revolves around a single point of emphasis pecking away until it burrows into your skull. The prettiest phrase is chorus coda “Angels to fly”, but it’s a lurch that feels tacked on, borrowed from another song. Perhaps by Damien Rice.
‘Lyrically’? It’s heavyhanded
While we’re sure the sentiment is genuine, all that sledgehammer stuff about selling “love to another man”, flying “in a pipe to the Motherland” and indeed being an angel who’ll “die, covered in white” is callow fare. A bit of inference wouldn’t go amiss. Saying that, “the Class A Team” is satisfying wordplay.
You’d think Sheeran would’ve been aware of this one. Phil Collins was flayed, scorned and driven from these shores when he tried to address homelessness for bafflingly huge 1989 hit ‘Another Day In Paradise’. Back then the ire was directed at a rich man daring to empathise with the destitute, which doesn’t quite apply here. Or didn’t when Sheeran wrote it, at least. It’s still on the uncomfortable side: busking isn’t living on the streets, Ed.
It’s awkward in this company
Previous winners like Amy Winehouse’s ‘Love Is A Losing Game’, Elbow’s ‘One Day Like This’ and even Will Young’s ‘Leave Right Now’ throw ‘The A Team’’s victory into stark relief. Those are songs with real emotional heft, surprises and hooks that dig into your hippocampus like a velvet scalpel.
Even this year there were more worthy candidates. Fellow nominees Adele’s ‘Rolling In The Deep’ and Florence + The Machine’s ‘Shake It Out’ are surely stronger, and what about something for Alex Turner? His ‘Piledriver Waltz’ for the Submarine soundtrack is both beautiful and lyricallydeft, and Arctic Monkeys’ ‘The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala’ can sneak a line like “I took the batteries out of my mysticism/ And put them in my thinking cap” into one of the catchiest melodies of the year.
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Well, what do you think should have won? Or does Ed deserve his props?