Recognise that headline? It might ring a few bells – we used exactly the same words this time last year, when The xx took home the Mercury Prize. This year, just like last year, the panel awarded the cheque and subsequent sales bounce to the most obvious choice, the one (in PJ’s case) with 6/4 odds on the day of the ceremony, the one NME gave 10/10, the one released by the winner of our Outstanding Contribution To Music 2011 award.
For the second year running you could see the Mercury Prize winner coming around two corners. Sure, Everything Everything, Ghostpoet or Metronomy could have safely carried home the award without too many complaints, but everything about Polly’s nomination was geared for a win.
She’s won before, and becomes the award’s first double winner. There’s your press release right there. The narrative goes way beyond that, though. She last won on September 11th 2001, a significant date in anyone’s eyes, and a nice round ten years ago. She’s made an album so resolutely of this isle it’s even called ‘Let England Shake’, which ticks off the Britishness of the award (although Metronomy’s ‘The English Riviera’ and King Creosote’s field recordings from Fife also bottle different strains of the essence of UK). No-one, however, stepped up with a watertight anti-war missive in a year where conflicts rage across the globe in battlefields, online, and on our own local streets.
Critics have used these ideal conditions to attack the judge’s reasoning, claiming she only won thanks to the overpowering story behind the record and her relationship to the Mercury Prize. I think those accusations deter from the sheer quality of the album itself. Yes, it’s a perfect and predictable fit, but surely we shouldn’t pass something over just because it seems too right.
Harvey’s eighth studio album was universally acclaimed and for good reason. A move away from her introspection of yore it deftly tackles the Big Subjects, referencing obscure historical moments and using sometimes challenging devices while remaining universal and, crucially, listenable. No mean feat. And while Adele’s got some tunes, you don’t hear her boldly referencing deformed children while bugles parp completely out of time.
“I’m honoured to have won the prize, especially for this album, which I put so much into” PJ Harvey said on picking up the award. “10 years ago feels like such a surreal experience, I’m sure for everybody, but my only memory of that day really is being in the hotel room and watching the television and seeing the Pentagon burning and I felt so separate from the prize that was being given here at that time. So to have the chance again to be here and actually receive an award means a great deal to me.”
Yes it feels inevitable, but Polly deserves her moment. She’s made the best album of the year twice in ten years.