Basically two names were being bandied about as the frontrunners for this year’s Mercury Prize in the U.K.: PJ Harvey and Adele. It was the former that ended up taking the prize today (Sept. 6) for her album “Let England Shake,” marking the first time that an artist has earned the honor twice in the Prize’s 20-year history.
The £20,000 prize actually marked a 10th anniversary of the first win: Harvey’s set “Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea” (2000) earned the 2001 Mercury. That set beat out artists like Gorillaz, Radiohead and Elbow. And the latter, coincidentally, was up for its second prize this year, too (Elbow won the Mercury in 2008 for “The Seldom Seen Kid”).
Harvey’s win over Adele isn’t all that shocking, although the albums represented two very different ideas of Album of the Year. To American listeners, at least, Harvey’s work remains lesser-known, particularly compared to powerhouse Adele, whose “21” has reinjected some cash flow into the struggling music-selling industry. “21” and “Let England Shake” are most certainly “adult” albums, in that they’re the sort of sounds that older audiences actually go out and purchase and listen to.
But “Let England Shake” really is that good, and so long as Adele doesn’t puke herself into oblivion, she has a good many more years of trying to top this list, even with “21” so strong.
“England” is also a devoutly regionalized pick, one that represents Britain well, in its political messaging, its historical inspirations and its complex delivery. When I reviewed the album earlier this year, I was struck, too, by how long its imagery lasted, with help from a full album’s worth of music videos to accompany each song.
And the Mercury Prize continues its long string of acknowledging female and female-led artists. Only a handful have won, but their list of qualifying and shortlisted albums has a respectable push for the fairer sex. Harvey’s now two of those.