Sunday, 12 February 2012

Brit Awards witterings, ramblings and predictions 2012

So, once again the award season is upon us with this weekend the BAFTA film awards following hot on the heels of the British Comedy Awards, the National Television Awards and the National Envelope Openers Awards. But it is on 22 February that the blue riband event so far as the British music industry concerned takes place, the night when record execs come together to slap their counterparts wholesale on the back.

Yes, it is the Brit Awards, the night that has provided many moments of controversy and comedy, ranging from Mick Fleetwood and Sam Fox's inability to read an autocue right through to Jarvis Cocker baring his derriere whilst Michael Jackson performed, and the amusingly named anarchist Danbert Nobacon of Chumbawamba fame pouring a bucket of ice over John Prescott and escaping a retaliatory jab from Hull's finest croquet playing Jaguar driver.

And so what moments of controversy, debauchery and amusement will be thrown up (hopefully not literally) this year? Well, judging by the nominees, seemingly not very much. Perhaps more than anything it is a sign of the ageing process taking hold, but it is hard to think of a year where I have been less aware of so many of the acts that have made the shortlist. I think this is in part due to me having bought so little music in 2011, either in physical copy or via download. However, I think it is also due to the nature of the charts now. Several of the acts nominated have had very little exposure in the media or via radio playlists over the past year and so consequently, much of their work has crept under the radar.

Maybe I will have to live with the reality that middle age is starting to take hold on me and it won't be long before I start finding myself snubbing music radio altogether and find that Radio 4 or Test Match Special on long wave will be my preferred wireless listening of choice. But it does seem to me that the days of the Brits having an impact and being compulsive television viewing are long gone. Sure, Lady Gaga will turn up wearing something reported missing from an abattoir and some rapper will turn the air blue with a few ill advised F-bombs in their acceptance speech, but these moments will be few and far between in an otherwise anodyne itinerary. James Corden has been booked to compere the show for the second year running, much to universal delight at least in the Corden household. But even a few lame putdowns from Patrick Stewart's old sparring partner are unlikely to give the Brits that much edge.

But, let's not get too bogged down with how the awards stack up with renewals from yesteryear. Comparisons are indeed odious and there are at least some interesting battles that could arise in some of this year's marquee categories. Ed Sheeran and Adele seem to be in pole position to clean up at this year's ceremony and given the commercial success that both have enjoyed in 2011, it would very surprising if either were to walk away empty handed. The Brits panel are an unpredictable bunch, but then so too are the British public, and they have a hand in deciding the destiny of the best single and album categories.

So, I thought it would be a good idea if a musical Nostradamus was to cast his eye over this year's shortlist and provide their expert analysis as to who will win each award, as well as advising the world as to what gems should be scooping the prizes, so far as their musical ear is concerned. Sadly, our correspondent was out to lunch and so the duty falls upon yours truly to predict the night's winners and losers for your delectation. Here goes:

British Male Solo Artist: Ed Sheeran, James Blake, James Morrison, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, Professor Green
The days of this category being dominated by Robbie Williams are mercifully long gone. In his place we have some new kids on the scene, along with an old stager appearing as a solo artist for the first time. I have not followed Ed Sheeran a great deal but his songs appear to have received a lot of radio play in the last year and he was also lauded on Top of the Pops at Christmas, which makes him a livewire contender here. Nelly Furtado's former collaborative partner who mended her broken strings should win the battle of the 2 James' here, although Mr Blake continues to make that difficult transition from black US hard court tennis specialist to white, folksy British singer-songwriter. I thought Professor Green generally committed violent crime in the library with a candlestick, but I am not certain of whether his music is equally criminal. That leaves us with one half of Madchester's finest indie sibling combo in his new project and whilst his debut solo album is a very fine listen and reminiscent of Oasis's more mellow offerings, Noel Gallagher sized eyebrows would be raised were he to land this award at a time when old school indie-Britpop music is not particularly in vogue. Disappointing not to see Devonian folk singer Ben Howard make the shortlist (kind of Paignton's answer to Jack Johnson), but of those that have made it, expect flavour of the month Ed Sheeran to edge out James Morrison for the mantelpiece decoration.

My prediction: Ed Sheeran My choice: Noel Gallagher

British Female Solo Artist: Adele, Florence & The Machine, Jessie J, Kate Bush, Laura Marling
Not the most inspiring list of nominees that have ever adorned this category, albeit there are a couple of previous winners amongst the quintet. Jessie J has certainly had a productive year and her song 'Price Tag' has been one of the most played songs of the past year, perhaps because it is appropriate in identifying society's current materialistic obsessions. For all that, however, I found the song somewhat irritating. Florence and her imaginary machine have come back and recorded that difficult second album to general acclaim, although it generally passed me by. Kate Bush seems to be this year's version of Annie Lennox and is nominated just to remind people that she has made her once in a decade trip to a recording studio, while Laura Marling seems to be gaining a reputation as the critics' favourite. She won this category a year ago against the odds, but lightning is unlikely to strike twice as last year was Adele's year. And I say that as someone who does not like her music, or indeed her. When you are the biggest selling recording artist in the States as well as in the UK, you know that you have cracked it and seeing as how sales of CDs and downloads keep record execs away from a Jobseekers' Allowance, expect them to show their gratitude here.

My prediction: Adele My choice: Despite not liking her, it has to be Adele

British Breakthrough Act: Anna Calvi, Ed Sheeran, Emeli Sande, Jessie J, The Vaccines
It has been a strange sort of year because whereas in previous years, I would look at this category and would be championing the merits of at least one of the nominees' work, I look at the list this year and know little of their respective merits. Of course, I have heard of Jessie J, Ed Sheeran and Anna Calvi but have only heard the odd song here and there. I did hear one of Emeli Sande's songs on Radio 2 the other week and quite liked it, while I have heard some of The Vaccines' work and just thought they were the type of indie guitar band that has given that genre a bad name these days because their sound was very derivative. On the surface, this looks like a straight fight between Ed Sheeran and Jessie J, and I anticipate that Mr Sheeran will win his second award of the evening.

My prediction: Ed Sheeran My choice: Emeli Sande

British Group: Arctic Monkeys, Chase & Status, Coldplay, Elbow, Kasabian

A lot of the usual suspects feature in this category, although spot the odd one out. Go on, be honest, have you heard of Chase and Status? They sound like a web design company. A little bit surprising that Beady Eye didn't get a look in for this category after the release of their first album in 2011. Of the established acts, Coldplay returned with their first new album in 3 years in 2011 and as staunch a fan of Coldplay as I am, I have to say that I was underwhelmed by their latest offering. Not a bad album by any means, but it lacked as many standout tracks as most of its predecessors. By the same token, Elbow's last album did not quite hit the same heights as 'Seldom Seen Kid' but it would have been unrealistic to expect it to. Arctic Monkeys seem to have faded off the radar a bit these days, no longer going for the populist audience and in doing so, losing some of their fanbase whilst getting further approval from the rest. If Coldplay are to be beaten here, then it is likely to be Kasabian who topple them given their popular appeal to those that attend live music. They also seem to be a band that are remaining fresh despite now being on their fourth album. I have a gut feeling for the band from Leicester to cause a minor upset in this category and for them to defeat Coldplay.

My prediction: Kasabian My choice: Elbow

British Single: Adele - Someone Like You, Ed Sheeran - The A Team, Example - Changed The Way You Kissed Me, Jessie J Ft B.o.B. - Price Tag, JLS Ft Dev - She Makes Me Wanna, Military Wives/Gareth Malone - Wherever You Are, Olly Murs Ft Rizzle Kicks - Heart Skips A Beat, One Direction - What Makes You Beautiful, Pixie Lott - All About Tonight, The Wanted - Glad You Came
As ever the nominees for this category reads like a playlist for Heart FM's daytime schedule. The Wanted will betray their song title and be wishing they stayed at home because they will not be winning. Nor for that matter will the Military Wives, Ed Sheeran or One Direction, much to Caroline Flack's disappointment. If the queue for their concert at The Dome last year was anything to go by, Example will be getting the teenage girl vote. As much as it would be pleasing to see a Brightonian victory, Rizzle Kicks' collaboration with Olly Murs will not be claiming the prize either. I must confess to a weakness where Pixie Lott is concerned, a perfect mixture of long legs and saccharin sweet electro-pop does the trick. Incidentally where was she on the best female shortlist? Her nominated song was one of the better number 1s of recent times, but even so, I think she will fall short here as I am expecting the winner to come from either Adele or Jessie J, as theirs were 2 of the most played singles of last year. Given that Adele released 3 or 4 singles of note last year while Jessie J's nominated effort remains the one by which she is most readily identified, I think the latter could scoop the prize on this occasion.

My prediction: Jessie J My choice: Pixie Lott

British Album of the Year: Adele - 21, Coldplay - Mylo Xyloto, Ed Sheeran - +, Florence & The Machine - Ceremonials, PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
Well, I only own one out of the shortlist this year and that is Coldplay's latest album. I must say that although I am very much a fan of Coldplay's, as I mentioned above, I did feel somewhat underwhelmed by their latest album and do not feel that it has the strength in depth of most of their previous efforts. The problem is, however, that I have not heard enough of the other albums to suitably advise if any of the other nominees' entries are better. I have heard the singles from Adele's album and also a couple of songs from Florence and the Machine and so I would expect them to be at the front of the queue when this award is given out. It is surprising that Noel Gallagher's debut album is missing as that was the best album I bought last year, followed by White Lies' second album 'Ritual'. Ed Sheeran I suppose is also a candidate, while I think PJ Harvey got in because she won the Mercury Prize last year, but that generally does not offer much of a form guide, save for the year that Elbow made their breakthrough. I think it is a close call between Adele and Florence, but although Karl Lagerfield is unlikely to approve, expect another win for Adele.

My prediction: Adele My choice: Somewhat by default in the absence of Noel Gallagher or White Lies, Coldplay

International Male Solo Artist: Aloe Blacc, Bon Iver, Bruno Mars, David Guetta, Ryan Adams
It is to my great shame and possibly a sign of the ageing process kicking in that I was completely ignorant to Ryan Adams releasing any material last year, an artist who I quite like and whose material I have previously bought. Elsewhere, we have Aloe Blacc who I doubt is in need of a dollar these days following the commercial success of his hit single last year. You do sense he could end up being one of those one hit wonders being picked out of the Buzzcocks ID parade in five years time, by which time one suspects Phill Jupitus will be fossilised and Noel Fielding will have become a woman. I was so oblivious to David Guetta last year when he was nominated that I wondered whether he was in fact a Spanish goalkeeper, but he appears to have had another year of recording and producing club records played on the Balearics' party island so comes here as a livewire contender. I'm not particularly familiiar with Bon Iver, but gather he is of a similar musical ilk to Jack Johnson and Ben Howard, so he may be worth checking out. It is Bruno Mars, however, who seems to have had the most commercial success out of this quintet this past year though and on that basis, I would be surprised if anyone else picked up this award.

My prediction: Bruno Mars My choice: Ryan Adams

International Female Solo Artist: Beyonce, Bjork, Feist, Lady Gaga, Rihanna
Again, due to me not following music extensively in 2011, I was not aware that Iceland's greatest singing pugilist had released any material last year, or indeed this side of the Millennium. I'm sure that she is as grateful as a grapefruit for her nomination competing against such stellar names. Nice to see Feist nominated who had a fairish hit with that radio friendly '1234' song three or four years ago, although I was blissfully unaware that she had released anything since. She surely comes in as rank outsider in this category. As for the A-listers, well I think Lady Gaga's seminal year came a couple of years ago when she swept the board while wearing the delicatessen as her outfit. That then leaves Rihanna and Beyonce and while Beyonce starts to enjoy her new role of motherhood, I expect Rihanna to cap a year in which she hit number one for the fifth year in a row with a Brit award to boot.
My prediction: Rihanna My choice: Feist

International Group: Fleet Foxes, Foo Fighters, Jay Z / Kanye West, Lady Antebellum, Maroon 5
First of all, how do Jay Z and Kanye West count as an 'international group'? They are two solo artists that happen to collaborate with many other artists on their material. This is surely a form of cheating and it would be wrong for cheats to prosper. Secondly, who on earth are Lady Antebellum? Thirdly, Maroon 5, why? That much overused and annoying word 'meh' springs to mind when looking at this category this year. The door seems to be left open for the Foo Fighters to be winning this category. I don't profess to be the greatest fan of the Foos and find a lot of their music repetitive, but at a time when rock music seems to have become commercially unfashionable, you have to respect their ability to keep churning out top 20 hit singles, even if their sound, at least to my ear, is formulaic and derivative. The Fleet Foxes are the band I have most of a liking for out of these nominees and although they have never quite topped their single 'Mykonos' from 3 or 4 years back, I think they the best of a mediocre bunch here. That said, expect the Foos to pick up the award.
My prediction: Foo Fighters My choice: Fleet Foxes

International Breakthrough Act: Aloe Blacc Bon Iver Foster The People Lana Del Rey Nicki Minaj
Have not got a great deal to say on this category due to how little of their material I have heard. Aloe Blacc and Foster The People both seem to be one hit wonders, while Nicki Minaj is another one to file under 'acts I've not previously heard of before a Brits nomination'. I am hoping if I haven't heard of them then members of Brits Committee would not be able to identify them either. Although Bon Iver could be a dark horse, Lana Del Rey has been attracting a lot of column inches recently off the back of that 'Video Games' hit single. On that basis, I expect the King of Spain to collect a crown, or an award anyway.
My prediction: Lana Del Rey My choice: No idea

British Producer: Paul Epworth, Flood, Ethan Johns

When I first saw these nominees, I thought the last person was Elton John, which led me to wonder how long he had been a producer on other people's music. I have only heard of Paul Epworth and purely for that very scientific reason, I predict he will win this award.

Outstanding Contribution To Music: Blur

They didn't bother with an outstanding contribution last year for some reason, but it has been restored this year in order to provide recognition for Blur. I would have to say that is a fair enough accolade to dish out. I don't profess to be the biggest fan of theirs, but they have been around now for over 20 years and have released a vast back catalogue of hit singles to the point where even if you are not an out-and-out fan of their music, the chances are you are going to like at least some of their songs. That is the case with me, albeit most of the songs of theirs that I like have tended not to be the major hits. For the record, I reckon that as an overall music composition, you are hard pressed to find a better song they have recorded than 'The Universal', while 'Tender', 'Out Of Time' and 'There's No Other Way' are also amongst their finest works.

Not so fond of the likes of 'Parklife', 'Country House' or 'Girls and Boys', but there are plenty of people who disagree with me and so it is likely, therefore, that these will be the songs they perform on the night, provided they can tear Phil Daniels away from advertising football betting and cutting down on his Porklife in order to lead the vocals.

Critics' Choice Emeli Sande
Emeli Sande is a Scottish soul singer and I think I've heard one of her tracks on Radio 2, which means it must be the kind of music that won't frighten the horses, or Ken Bruce for that matter. She has collaborated before on a number one hit with Professor Green and as has been shown in the past, collaborating as a vocalist on other people's work is not a bad career move in order to get yourself airplay and awareness in the charts. Her Wikipedia entry also informs the world that she is Simon Cowell's 'favourite songwriter at the moment', although given Cowell's track record at promoting sub-standard mime artists on various talent shows, this is not necessarily a glowing reference. She beat Maverick Sabre to win this award, which I previously believed was the name of an Olympic fencing sword.

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