As I’ve often reflected over seven years of chairing the panel of mixed professionals that awards the U.K.’s Mercury Music Prize, arts prizes involve odd kinds of judgment and make only an oblique contribution to canon formation. Two records on this year’s shortlist, Pulp’s This Is Hardcore and Massive Attack’s Mezzanine, are far more likely to show up on a circa-2010 list of the best 1000 albums than the eventual winner, Gomez’s Bring It On, on which a bunch of 20-year-olds from Lancashire try out for a blues-bar circuit that exists only in their minds. Although Gomez evince an intuitive-seeming fluency if you give them a chance, I can see why their virtues mystify U.S. critics while Pulp’s and Massive Attack’s do not. Yet Bring It On‘s victory has met with unprecedented critical approval.
The panel’s discussions focused on two finalists: Bring It On and Cornershop’s When I Was Born for the 7th Time, albums that–unlike Pulp’s and Massive Attack’s–reach out to an audience rather than waiting for already committed listeners to be pulled in. Musos contended with DJs; the well-made song was pitched against the subtleties of rhythmic space. More unexpectedly, every argument for Cornershop was reapplied to Gomez. These boys may be retro-rockers, but they absorbed the 1990s’ produce-it-yourself dance-floor sensibility. Their song forms are American, but filtered through the casual self-deprecation peculiar to British pop. And in their eagerness for attention they’re a band of much charm, radiating a delight in their accomplishment that stands out here. Creativity via market research, the current British pop practice, breeds cynicism. Gomez aren’t in the least bit cynical. That’s why they won.