Plan B, Jessie Ware and Alt-J lead this year’s shortlist for the Barclaycard Mercury Prize, which again has snubbed commercially successful acts such as Kate Bush, Coldplay, Emeli Sande and Florence & the Machine.
The Mercury, for the best British or Irish album, has often been given to new or less-well-known acts. Still, the shortlist of 12, announced last night, is one of the most obscure in the prize’s 20-year history.
The award pits different genres against one another, ranging from folk and jazz to hard rock and classical. The winner receives 20,000 pounds ($32,230), although the boost from album sales can be worth much more.
Ben Drew, better known as Plan B, has an album soundtracking his film “Ill Manors” about urban crime and unrest. Jessie Ware is praised by the judges in a statement for her “album of sensuous and emotive pop” while Alt-J makes electronic music such as the single “Breezeblocks.”
Among acts not included: singer-songwriter Lettie, Paul Weller, Carter Tutti Void, Hot Chip, the Horrors, Dexys and Bombay Bicycle Club.
P.J. Harvey won last year’s prize, beating other artists including Adele, Elbow and Anna Calvi. The 12 shortlisted albums in 2011 sold an additional 400,000 copies between the list being announced in July last year and the ceremony, the U.K. Official Charts Co. said in an e-mail.
The Mercury focuses on musical quality and doesn’t take into account sales, media profile or live performances, according to a statement by the judges. Commercial acts such as Adele, Amy Winehouse and Robbie Williams have often lost out to cutting-edge performers such as Harvey.
In 2010, London band the xx triumphed with its debut CD of understated indie rock. Its new album isn’t on the 2012 list. There were surprise winners in 2009 (Speech Debelle), 2008 (Elbow) and 2007 (Klaxons).
Blur and Pulp were beaten by the so-hip-it-hurts M People in 1994, Robbie Williams by too-cool-for-school Gomez in 1998. Both victors faltered after. The mercurial award is often seen as an albatross that also finished off Roni Size & Reprazent, Speech Debelle and Talvin Singh.
The Mercury organizers have faced calls for more openness about the judging (the panel is made up of musicians, executives and writers whose names aren’t disclosed), selection process and involvement of record companies. The prize was first established by the British Phonographic Industry in 1992.
Shortlist (with betting odds from William Hill Plc): Plan B -- “Ill Manors” (10-1) Richard Hawley -- “Standing at the Sky’s Edge” (11-2) Alt-J -- “An Awesome Wave” (7-4) Django Django -- “Django Django” (5-1) Jessie Ware -- “Devotion” (8-1) Maccabees -- “Given to the Wild” (12-1) Lianne La Havas -- “Is Your Love Big Enough?” (16-1) Michael Kiwanuka -- “Home Again” (14-1) Ben Howard -- “Every Kingdom” (12-1) Sam Lee -- “Ground Of Its Own” (25-1) Field Music -- “Plumb” (14-1) Roller Trio -- “Roller Trio” (20-1)
Muse highlights include Jason Harper on cars and Jorg von Uthmann on Paris arts.
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)