Today sees the announcement of the shortlisted nominations for the Mercury Prize, an event that's traditionally greeted with widespread bafflement as to the identity of that year's complete-unknown candidates, and outraged derision at the non-appearance of more obvious contenders. Virtually everyone working in the music industry will at some point come up with their own list of more deserving albums, so this year I'm going to get my retaliation in first.
In its earliest years, the task was complicated by the mandatory inclusion of acts from the more fringe genres of jazz, folk and classical music, none of whom were ever seriously expected to carry off the trophy. But as musical eclecticism has become more popular, this rule seems to have been discarded. Indeed, an album's chances of nomination might be increased by a little shrewd musical miscegenation: watch out for something like Strings of Consciousness's Our Moon Is Full, or, more likely, Simon Emmerson's multi-artist The Imagined Village project, which outfitted traditional folk songs in pop and world music crossover threads. Other possibles would include folktronicists Tunng's Good Arrows, and Comicopera by Robert Wyatt.
There's little evidence of undue PC colour-consciousness affecting recent Mercury nominations, with only one or two black acts appearing in each of the last four years' lists. This is probably due to the traditionally track-based, rather than album-based, nature of black music generally, from Motown and Stax/Atlantic to R&B and grime. In which case, there's a serious case to be made for the inclusion this year of The Mitchell Brothers' Dressed For the Occasion, a coherent series of everyday London-life tableaux by the UK equivalent to OutKast.
This past year has obviously been boom-time for the ladies, yet we are unlikely to be offered a list that includes all of Duffy, Adele, Estelle, Laura Marling, Beth Rowley, M.I.A., Linda Thompson, PJ Harvey, Kate Nash, Eliza Carthy, KT Tunstall, Martina Topley-Bird and Kylie, because there wouldn't be room for anyone else. But I'd expect at least three to feature: my choices would be Alas, I Cannot Swim, the debut by Marling, the teen Joni Mitchell of her era, Thompson's Versatile Heart, only her second album in 22 years, and Tamil tigress M.I.A.'s Kala, but I'd imagine the ones officially picked will be Duffy's Rockferry, Estelle's Shine and Kate Nash's Made of Bricks.
The nominations panel always seem keen to demonstrate how "down with the kids" they are by picking one or two mainstream pop offerings, but the past year's albums by such as Sugababes, Girls Aloud and Kylie have been too poor to merit inclusion, so I'd imagine one or both of The Kooks' Konk and The Ting Tings' We Started Nothing to figure.
It's been a few years now since a big, global brand appeared on the list, so with heavy-hitters like Coldplay, Radiohead and James Blunt all releasing albums in the qualifying period, it would be surprising if all were ignored. Clearly, both for musical reasons and for the socio-economic questions raised by its unprecedented mode of delivery, Radiohead's In Rainbows simply cannot be ignored. Likewise, I would find it hard to overlook Robert Plant & Alison Krauss's Raising Sand, a sublime album that also ticks the aforementioned eclecticism box.
Another caveat would be the Mercury's pervasive ageism: since the turn of the millennium, the only nominees of any notable maturity have been David Bowie, Scritti Politti and Wyatt, which rather diminishes the chances for such distinguished veterans as Ray Davies, Kevin Ayers, Ringo Starr, Elvis Costello, Annie Lennox, Siouxsie, Steve Winwood, The Fall and Mick Hucknall; though I wouldn't bet against Paul Weller's 22 Dreams being included, on the grounds of it being the best album of his career.
Keen to show their familiarity with cutting-edge dance music, the nominations panel are almost certain to include Burial's Untrue, the most significant dubstep album yet released. And having overlooked Jamie Lidell's extraordinary Multiply a few years back, the panel may compensate by including his more mainstream follow-up Jim.
Given its sharply raised recent profile, folk music should figure strongly this year, with a couple of nominations from a pool that includes The Imagined Village, Carthy, Seth Lakeman, Steve Tilston, Jim Moray, Thompson, King Creosote, Marling, Blue Blokes 3, Spiers & Boden, Tunng and Chumbawamba, whose The Boy Bands Have Won recast them as a sort of anarcho-leftie Pentangle. As for UK jazz, the panel will probably cut to the chase and nominate Polar Bear again.
Which leaves just the core indie albums that habitually make up the spine of the nominations list (and furnish most of the winners). Foals' math-rock endurance exercise Antidotes, Elbow's The Seldom Seen Kid, Spiritualized's moving Songs In A&E and The Last Shadow Puppets' retro-sophisticate pop epic The Age of the Understatement are all strong contenders, with Cajun Dance Party's The Colourful Life perhaps edging out The Go! Team's Proof of Youth and Republic of Loose's Aaagh! for the street-party posse spot. Outsiders like The Shortwave Set (Replica Sun Machine), melancholy troubadour Merz (Moi Et Mon Camion) and the self-titled second album by neo-psychedelicist Jim Noir are all also worthy of places on the list.
Finally, since the panel always likes to bowl a googly or two, there may well be a place for newcomers such as reggae-soulman Natty's Man Like I and Leon Jean Marie's accomplished Bent Out of Shape, and for Neon Neon's Stainless Style, Gruff Rhys's concept album about John DeLorean; though I reckon it's about time a home-grown bluesman got a nomination, none more deserving than James Hunter's excellent The Hard Way.
The shortlist for the 2008 Nationwide Mercury Prize will be announced today; the winner will be announced on 9 September
Andy Gill's albums of the year
James Hunter: 'The Hard Way'
Laura Marling: 'Alas, I Cannot Swim'
Merz: 'Moi Et Mon Camion'
The Mitchell Brothers: 'Dressed For The Occasion'
Jim Noir: 'Jim Noir'
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss: 'Raising Sand'
Radiohead: 'In Rainbows'
Spiritualized: 'Songs In A&E'
Linda Thompson: 'Versatile Heart'
The Ting Tings: 'We Started Nothing'
Paul Weller: '22 Dreams'Reuse content