If you can hum it, they won't win pop's 'Booker'

<i>Mercury Prize</i>: Big names missing from line-up for &pound;20,000 award
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Contemporary music has shown it can outdo the Booker Prize when it comes to exploring the mists of obscurity.

Contemporary music has shown it can outdo the Booker Prize when it comes to exploring the mists of obscurity.

The shortlist for the £20,000 Mercury Music Prize had six debut albums in its 12-strong choice, with no place for bands such as Moloko or the Pet Shop Boys. Previous Mercury winners catapulted to fame include Gomez, Talvin Singh and Roni Size. The Mercury judges, deliberately eschewing many of the big names one sees at The Brits, chose what could be termed the chattering classes' music: intelligent rock, folk and contemporary classical.

The judges are chaired by Simon Frith, who has mixed pontificating on pop with teaching English at Strathclyde University. His panel includes critics, musicians, writers and broadcasters. He said yesterday: "With no obvious trends ... it means a wide-open year. We have half-a-dozen debut albums, an unexpected swirl of guitars, strings and soulful singer-songwriters and a strong sense of people making exhilarating new music."

The list does include two outright dance albums - by MJ Cole and Leftfield - with dance-influenced albums by Death in Vegas and Nitin Sawhney reflecting the influence of British dance music in creating original new hybrids.

One of the few big names on the list is the former Verve singer Richard Ashcroft. Indie fans will also welcome the inclusion of Coldplay, whose album went straight to number one in the British chart the week after its release this month. While their work ranges from dance through pop/rock to folk, only one album, Nicholas Maw's Violin Concerto, embraces full-on classical music.

The panel felt that Ashcroft, whose talents were praised after the release of the bestselling Verve album Urban Hymns, had "confirmed his status as a fine songwriter".

Sawhney, who first found fame in the acid-jazz group The James Taylor Quartet and released his first solo album in 1993, is nominated for the acclaimed Beyond Skin, which narrowly missed being included in last year's shortlist.

The winner of the prize will be announced on 12 September.