How bold can you be when you are sponsored by Barclaycard?

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So the favourite won. Among this year's uninspiring Mercury Prize shortlist, Alt-J may have inched ahead by the fraction more innovation their polite genre-splicing showed, compared to their eleven rivals.

It was perhaps a mild stand by the judges towards the original principles of a prize whose point looks increasingly murky. This year's awards ceremony's dumping of Jools Holland for Lauren Laverne, and the BBC for Channel 4, was supposed to signal a youthful turn. The prize's Managing Director Dan Ford's promise of "an engaging experience that appeals to music fans", and the presence of seven acts who'd charted in the UK top 6, tells a more precise tale of an award now nakedly tailored to corral consumers in 2012's wide-open, cash-strapped music business. No more worthy chart dive-bombs such as 2009 winner Speech Debelle, thanks. But then what else could you expect of a counter-cultural bauble quietly sponsored by Barclaycard?

Alt-J's "Tesselate" defines their cocktail of timeless narratives in a digital age (as shown by their name, a Mac keyboard command), with folk tale fatalities – "Three guns and one goes off" – which could come from the new Dylan album, and subtly warped instrumentation.

What's lacking is missing from most of this year's Mercury, Plan B and perhaps Richard Hawley excepted: rough edges, explosions of passion, and the need to change people's souls. The Mercury right now is just another music biz meat-market, for the more refined consumer.

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