and the winner is....

um, i hadn't forgotten about the mmmp or mock-mercury prize (see various disjointed earlier posts), which we'd inaugurated as a hopeless protest against the dreariness of the "proper" prize. it's just that i have been on holiday, which rather destroys the inclination. anyway, the best british album of the last 12 months or so.... (now rather longer than that), is sportique's "communique no.9". for reasons i will come on to. but first, some thoughts.

firstly, who else came close to nomination ? not many. bearsuit and taz and pipas, albeit that i am well aware they are kind of more an international pop duo, i think the branding goes ... oh, and klashnekoff would have been a shoe-in, had his "sagas" album not really been more of a compilation.

secondly, who were the real runners and who the outsiders of the twelve ?

well, empress's work is the most beautiful, but is so restrained as to be most enjoyable at a distance - mood music, if you like. while blade's record is probably the most earnest, but not always shot through with the quality that a whole album of material demands. cappo's is the most urgent and at times energetic, but perhaps a little rough - the joy with him is the fact that he clearly is going to make a near-perfect album, and probably not too far from now. taskforce continue in their vein of excellent albums, but again i can accept that their observations are an acquired taste. randomnumber is an occasional genius, whose album only really suffers, as so many do these days, from its length. and the windmills - well, brilliant as much as "now is then" is - have done better (if scarcely ever better than individual songs on that album such as the title track and single "walking around the world"). and paragon welcomely gave us a real local flavour (down here in southwest eleven-ish) with a record that really had been such a long time coming.

that left five albums that we were really torn between. both wiley and morrissey produced fantastic albums, both with a few duff tracks but both of which should have walked onto the "legit" mercury shortlist. morrissey has had more than enough love (inamongst all the usual sniping) and two fine top ten singles from "you are the quarry", so i am sure he will not object to missing out here. wiley is not hated, but is not nearly venerated enough - apart from as a producer - when "treddin on thin ice" is so much more rewarding - listen after listen, as the months go by - than the dizzee rascal album which he will never seem to be able to step out of the shadow of.

the dark horse, on the other hand, all along, was picture center's extraordinarily desolate "our true intent is all for your delight". why are there no decent-sized indie labels prepared to release this sort of stuff ? with three vocalists taking it in turn to elucidate songwriter mark dobson's feverish thoughts, this album builds on everything that their debut had promised, but as far as we can tell has disappeared without trace. anyway, "our true intent" came close, but found itself edged out by a more straightforward battle of the bands.

the fall and sportique have both been around for a long time, at least in terms of their respective personnel. but what their two albums have in common is that there is hardly a duff note, moment, chord or lyric on either - indeed, there is not a misplaced bar on the whole of "communique no 9", while "country on the click" only very rarely flickers into the less-than-ace, most conspicuously on the sole cover version of its 12 tracks. both the fall and sportique albums are masterpieces of fractured, witty, intelligent, angular, art-rock post-punk pop noise - no, really - and could have been made at any time in the last 25 years without sounding anything other than fresh and illuminating. we have been guilty so often, especially in the last couple of years, of assuming that guitar rock is no longer of relevance, because of both the malign meaninglessness of keane and travis and coldplay and the posing and haircuts of their more "edgy" clotheshorse contemporaries, but both these records demonstrated that you can still do worthwhile things with drums, bass, guitars, shouting and um, keyboards. and that however ok franz ferdinand (who inevitably landed the 20 grand from mercury) may be, they have less energy and style than people twice their age. which is an indictment more of the record buying public and fickle fashionistas than franz ferdinand, but anyway.

so why did sportique pip mark e. smith and his merry men ? i think, mainly, it is because their fantastic, creative album, albeit nodding heavily to wire, alternative tv and some other band called um, the fall, crams all its ideas into 18 minutes or so. brevity is such a good thing for records - it is a crying shame that the takeover of the compact disc has meant that people are upping album lengths from 40 minutes to 60 or more when they should SO be going the other way, cutting out all extraneous material and letting us just enjoy the thing as a palatable whole rather than having to listen to it in pieces or without concentration. and to hop from punk to dub and everywhere in between in such a short time makes sportique's album, frankly, such a joy.

so - if you get hold of one album from 2003/4, make it "communique no 9".

that is all.