Judging the Mercury Prize, David Bowie, and Eminem’s mother

Having previously turned down a Kit Kat ad campaign, David Bowie is now fronting one for Louis Vuitton. But how does one get him out the house?

The pop quote of the month comes from Eminem, who, asked which part of his new album he was most “excited about”, said none of it: he was just glad it was over. I tried to get an advance listen of The Marshall Mathers LP 2 without resorting to illegal downloads but the label refused to send any review copies out, presumably because he’d already given it such a massive kicking himself.

Sometimes I think we’re due a return to the music writing of the 1960s, when the first pop critics, sitting on a record company sofa in Hush Puppies, simply listened to a record and narrated what was on it, instead of providing comment. The Beatles’ “Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!” is “fairground music brought up to date and quite fascinating to hear,” according to Allen Evans in the New Musical Express in 1967. A year earlier, the Kinks’ Ray Davies had said, of “Eleanor Rigby”, “I bought a Haydn LP the other day and this sounds just like it.” “Tomorrow Never Knows,” he observed, “will be popular in the discotheques.”

Ground control to Major Vuitton

Anyway, I thought of the recalcitrant Eminem when, red-carpeted at the Mercury Awards, the 19-year-old Jake Bugg was asked about how he felt being nominated for the gong and said he wasn’t that bothered. To be fair, through Bugg’s eyes there is no need for industry recognition – his debut album sold 450,000 copies and life for him is a vast, flapping duvet of 14-year old girls, stretched out across a festival field.

I was a Mercury judge for the first time this year: the task of getting 200 records down to one may have been enormous but the 90- minute ceremony passed smoothly apart from Lauren Laverne’s much-celebrated Blunt/Blake spoonerism. James Blake, this year’s winner, is the son of the one-time Colosseum guitarist James Litherland, though you don’t hear much jazz rock in his strain of pastoral dubstep. Way back in the summer before voting began, I wondered if David Bowie would win the award because people wanted to force him to come out of the house and collect it, but no. On the night, he is beamed in via a new video (a remix of his song “Love Is Lost” by James “LCD Soundsystem” Murphy), featuring props from his archives: a few years back someone had been charged with the task of carving the face of the dame on to a piece of wood and turning him into a marionette. On our table someone trawls their phone for visual proof that Bowie is appearing in a Louis Vuitton ad campaign, having previously turned down one for Kit Kat. As it turns out, he is.

1001 lists to read before you die

The workers of Britain were provided with a 375-hour Spotify soundtrack for their offices last week when the NME unveiled its megapoll, “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. The Smiths’ “The Queen is Dead” (1986) was No 1. I thought the music press had got the listings thing out of its system about five years ago, around the time of Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Singers of All Time” (I can’t think of 100 singers) and coffee-table publications such as 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, but just this morning, a new book came through the door that took the music/death/planning equation to a cosmic new level: 1001 Guitars to Dream of Playing Before You Die (Octopus Books, £20).

NME should have had a country-wide poll open only to the public vote. Robbie Williams and One Direction would be at the top followed closely by the guy off The X Factor who sings gospel music; INXS and Dire Straits would be in the top 20. Most of what ordinary people listen to behind closed doors is seldom talked about by music journalists. They’ve started to acknowledge this on Radio 2’s Jo Whiley show, in which I participate once a month or so. I am made to review albums that have already been in the public domain for a week, so that the guy driving the van down the A47 can tweet the programme and tell us that what I’m saying about Alison Moyet is completely untrue. It’s a challenge and quite exhilarating.

The even realer Slim Shady

And so to the Eminem album, for which, as we go to press, there is sadly no time for anything more than a narration review. In the opening track, “Bad Guy”, Eminem sounds very angry and frustrated with his female friend and says he has been driving around her neighbourhood for nine hours and 45 minutes now with his mouth full of saliva. He appears to be breaking and entering her house. This song is a slower pace than Eminem’s usual jog-beat and his voice is quite manly and robust. In the album’s third song, “Rhyme or Reason”, the rapper explains that he has no father but that this is OK because his mother reproduced like a komodo dragon.

James Blake poses with the 2013 Mercury Prize winners trophy for his second album Overgrown during the awards ceremony in central London. Image: Getty

Kate Mossman is the New Statesman's arts editor and pop critic.

This article first appeared in the 06 November 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Are cities getting too big?

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
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The best film soundtracks to help you pretend you live in a magical Christmas world

It’s December. You no longer have an excuse.

It’s December, which means it’s officially time to crack out the Christmas music. But while Mariah Carey and Slade have their everlasting charms, I find the best way to slip into the seasonal spirit is to use a film score to soundtrack your boring daily activities: sitting at your desk at work, doing some Christmas shopping, getting the tube. So here are the best soundtracks and scores to get you feeling festive this month.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

Although this is a children’s film, it’s the most grown-up soundtrack on the list. Think smooth jazz with a Christmas twist, the kind of tunes Ryan Gosling is playing at the fancy restaurant in La La Land, plus the occasional choir of precocious kids. Imagine yourself sat in a cocktail chair. You’re drinking an elaborate cocktail. Perhaps there is a cocktail sausage involved also. Either way, you’re dressed head-to-toe in silk and half-heartedly unwrapping Christmas presents as though you’ve already received every gift under the sun. You are so luxurious you are bored to tears of luxury – until a tiny voice comes along and reminds you of the true meaning of Christmas. This is the kind of life the A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack can give you. Take it with both hands.

Elf (2003)

There is a moment in Elf when Buddy pours maple syrup over his spaghetti, washing it all down with a bottle of Coca Cola. “We elves like to stick to the four main food groups,” he explains, “candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup.” This soundtrack is the audio equivalent – sickly sweet, sugary to an almost cloying degree, as it comes peppered with cute little flutes, squeaky elf voices and sleigh bells. The album Elf: Music from the Motion Picture offers a more durable selection of classics used in the movie, including some of the greatest 1950s Christmas songs – from Louis Prima’s 1957 recording of “Pennies from Heaven”, two versions of “Sleigh Ride”, Eddy Arnold’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and Eartha Kitt’s 1953 “Santa Baby”. But if a sweet orchestral score is more your thing, the Elf OST of course finishes things off with the track “Spaghetti and Syrup”. Just watch out for the sugar-rush headache.

Harry Potter (2001-2011)

There are some Christmas-specific songs hidden in each of the iconic Harry Potter scores, from “Christmas at Hogwarts” to “The Whomping Willow and The Snowball Fight” to “The Kiss” (“Mistletoe!” “Probably full of knargles”), but all the magical tinkling music from these films has a Christmassy vibe. Specifically concentrate on the first three films, when John Williams was still on board and things were still mostly wonderful and mystical for Harry, Ron and Hermione. Perfect listening for that moment just before the snow starts to fall, and you can pretend you’re as magical as the Hogwarts enchanted ceiling (or Ron, that one time).

Carol (2015)

Perhaps you’re just a little too sophisticated for the commercial terror of Christmas, but, like Cate Blanchett, you still want to feel gorgeously seasonal when buying that perfect wooden train set. Then the subtly festive leanings of the Carol soundtrack is for you. Let your eyes meet a stranger’s across the department store floor, or stare longingly out of the window as your lover buys the perfect Christmas tree from the side of the road. Just do it while listening to this score, which is pleasingly interspersed with songs of longing like “Smoke Rings” and “No Other Love”.

Holiday Inn (1942)

There’s more to this soundtrack than just “White Christmas”, from Bing Crosby singing “Let’s Start The New Year Off Right” to Fred Astaire’s “You’re Easy To Dance With” to the pair’s duet on “I’ll Capture Your Heart”. The score is perfect frosty walk music, too: nostalgic, dreamy, unapologetically merry all at once.

The Tailor of Gloucester (1993)

Okay, I’m being a little self-indulgent here, but bear with me. “The Tailor of Gloucester”, adapted from the Beatrix Potter story, was an episode of the BBC series The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends and aired in 1993. A Christmastime story set in Gloucester, the place I was born, was always going to be right up my street, and our tatty VHS came out at least once a year throughout my childhood. But the music from this is something special: songs “The Tailor of Gloucester”, “Songs From Gloucester” and “Silent Falls the Winter Snow” are melancholy and very strange, and feature the singing voices of drunk rats, smug mice and a very bitter cat. It also showcases what is in my view one of the best Christmas carols, “Sussex Carol.” If you’re the kind of person who likes traditional wreaths and period dramas, and plans to watch Victorian Baking at Christmas when it airs this December 25th, this is the soundtrack for you.

Home Alone (1990-1992)

The greatest, the original, the godfather of all Christmas film soundtracks is, of course, John William’s Home Alone score. This is for everyone who likes or even merely tolerates Christmas, no exceptions. It’s simply not Christmas until you’ve listened to “Somewhere in My Memory” 80,000 times whilst staring enviously into the perfect Christmassy homes of strangers or sung “White Christmas” to the mirror. I’m sorry, I don’t make the rules. Go listen to it now—and don't forget Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, which is as good as the first.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.