The Mercurial Candidates: Mercury Vs Polaris

Which is better, the Mercury or the Polaris? We conduct a terribly scientific test to find out.

The fact is, things from North America are cooler than things from Scunthorpe. That’s just how it is. And since Canada’s Polaris Award is based around the same theories as our own Mercury (panel picks favourite home grown album, panel gets it right or wrong), it seems only right that we conduct a terribly scientific test to find out which award is best. Problem is, we don’t actually have a psychic octopus to pick a favourite, so instead, here’s our own choices from each year.

2006: Final Fantasy vs Arctic MonkeysThe likelihood of an album of string quartet arrangements walking off with the Mercury seems, well, about the same odds as you’d get for Roller Trio today (33/1, if you fancy a punt), but that actually happened when Final Fantasy won the Polaris for ‘He Poos Clouds’ back in 2006.

Meanwhile, back in Blighty, the Arctic Monkeys won the Mercury for their debut, ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’. In a ‘fundamentally proving the prize is not the kiss of death for a career’ shocker, the Sheffield lads’ win is still pretty hard to argue with.

Winner: Mercury - Arctic Monkeys

2007: Patrick Watson vs KlaxonsAn odd year for both awards, with Patrick Watson’s ‘Close To Paradise’ beating of Feist and Arcade Fire being described as ‘the ultimate split vote win’ in certain circles, and Klaxons somehow fighting off competition from Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back To Black’ on these shores. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s likely both sets of judges don’t really want to talk about it too much.

Winner: Draw

2008: Caribou vs ElbowRound three finds the ex Maths teacher squaring up to Elbow, who sort of look like they ought to have been geography teachers. ‘Andorra’ found Caribou in somewhat gorgeous form; slightly more subdued than previous outings, but still pushing the boundaries, still innovating. Whereas for Elbow, who had been trudging away in the background for what felt like forever, ‘Seldom Seen Kid’ winning the Mercury marked a turning point in their career that left them publicly acclaimed, as well as critically, at last.

Winner: Polaris - Caribou

2009 Fucked Up vs Speech DebellePerhaps the most instantly recognisable example of the so called ‘Mercury Effect’, Speech Debelle’s career stalled in the wake of her Mercury win. With her label unable to fulfil orders and capitalise on the award, she’s now probably best known for her low record sales of ‘Speech Therapy’ in the wake of the win, rather than the record itself.

Whereas when Fucked Up won the Polaris with ‘The Chemistry Of Common Life’, well it might not be commercially as successful as some of its Polaris counterparts, but let’s be honest, no one’s going to call Pink Eyes a failure (and definitely not to his face) – you’re much more likely to find yourself at one of their mental live shows, wanting to hug him, despite the fact that he’s sweaty and covered in blood.

Winner: Polaris - Fucked Up

2010 Karkwa vs The xxUndoubtably the favourites back in 2010, when The xx walked off with the Mercury for their self-titled debut, it was really no surprise. Kwarkwa, on the other hand, with their record ‘Les Chemin De Verre’ found themselves up against the likes of Broken Social Scene, Caribou, and Tegan and Sara, and were therefore hardly favourites. And basically, it could be considered in the same way as if one of the Mercury’s token jazz acts walked off with our award; this is the first time a French language album won the award. So there’s hope for Roller Trio yet (honest).

But really, this is about The xx, and with such a universally acclaimed album… well, it’s hard to argue with the validity of that choice.

Winner: Mercury - The xx.

2011: Arcade Fire vs PJ HarveyThe final bout for the title fight (until tomorrow, anyway), and they’ve both brought out the heavyweights. Despite the outcry in some musically ill-educated quarters of ‘Who the fuck are Arcade Fire’ (really?), there can be little argument that they’re up there with some of the best bands in the world today, and with ‘The Suburbs’, they proved that they’re getting stronger with every release.

And then along came our Polly. Winning last year’s Mercury, ‘Let England Shake’ proved that, eight albums in, Harvey is as much of a creative force to be reckoned with as she was when she last took the award home (in 2001).

Winner: Draw.

Overall WinnerOh good, it’s a draw. Even with the mystique that often surrounds records from abroad (because anything that we know was recorded in a Chapel in deepest darkest Ontario is clearly cooler than that which was spawned in Milton Keynes, by default), the fact remains that (by this very scientific methodology) the Mercurys are pretty much on a par. Until tonight. When it could all change and we find out who’s taking on Feist…