This Benjamin Clementine article was written by Steven Loftin, a GIGsoup contributor
So here we have it. 2015’s Mercury Music Prize winner is Benjamin Clementine ‘At Least For Now’. Out of the entire shortlist of this year Clementine is easily one of the most deserved. Whereas others were finding the boundaries that had previously been created by others, maybe pushing them ever so slightly, Clementine was busy suffering for his art. Writing songs that marry classical ideas with a penchant for prose, songs of grandeur that intellectually put out the societal fires created by stigma and close-mindedness. The stories he has to tell from his life so far, and don’t forget he’s only 26, make for the perfect material to match the world he creates.
It’s near impossible to compare Clementine to another artist, sure he has components, the most popular by critics to make is that with Nina Simone, but when you really listen there’s no one distinct sound. To compare Clementine to another artist would simply reduce what he’s created to a facsimile, something which it certainly is not.
Now, winning the Mercury Prize certainly doesn’t give an artist any guarantee of tenure in an industry where one day you’re a labels favourite new thing and suddenly you’re back on the streets of Paris busking, a very real scenario for Clementine. Out of the rest of the shortlist Clementine was certainly the most interesting. People may make the obvious argument of the awards choosing the most niche option but out of rest of the entries, he easily has a sound that is what matches the perfect Prize winner
As for the idea that the Prize indicates the current state of British music, this is something that holds very little water. If this were the case Slaves, Wolf Alice or Ghostpoet would have been receiving the award, along with Jamie XX. No, the awards are based around musical merit, actual musical composition. For anyone to argue that Clementine is not deserved of this clearly hasn’t heard his album, or if they have they haven’t listened.
The album itself, ‘At Least For Now’, is 11 tracks of stories and ideas that have fermented over time, slowly building to eventually grace us with their presence. Each song is almost a separate act from the other, with ‘Adios’ resonating that of a musical, hitting falsettos with ease. ‘London’ has an urban feel, with Clementine’s. vocal rhythm matching that of a hiphop song. The shortest cut on the record is ‘St -Clementine-On-Tea-And-Croissants’, is a completely acapella, bar the sound of a leg creating a steady beat, ode to his time as a busker in the Parisian underground.
Of course with such unique imagery comes the struggle in being able to relate to it, something that bridges the gap between hearing a song and actually listening. He tackles this with ‘Nemesis’, which talks of the wasted time waiting for a lover, ‘If I held my breath on you, I’d have died a thousand times’.
As with every Mercury win, there will always be comment on how this was the incorrect choice, someone else should’ve have one etc etc. It’s clear the judges aren’t hitting the same one trick ponies we thought they would, they’re broadening the horizons of most of us, showing us that there is in fact a depth to music that’s not lost, and Benjamin Clementine is the clear representative and deserved winner.