Having for once managed to get it almost unarguably right last year by awarding the prize to Elbow's The Seldom Seen Kid, the nominating panel of the Mercury Prize now reverts to its usual mixture of the bland, the baffling and the downright undeserving for this year's list of nominees.
Doubtless, some on the panel will be pleased to have avoided many of the big marquee names this year, with no place available for Snow Patrol, Keane, Coldplay, Oasis, Take That, Pet Shop Boys, Girls Aloud, U2, Morrissey or the Manic Street Preachers; and also to have given a deft swerve to some of the prize's traditional indie favourites, such as Antony & The Johnsons, Franz Ferdinand and PJ Harvey. But simply confounding expectations is a poor justification for such an underwhelming array of nominees. This year's may well be the competition's worst shortlist ever, a poor representation of what has been a fine 12 months in music.
It's no wonder that the bookies have already installed Kasabian and Florence & The Machine at 5/1 joint favourites, as few of the other contenders appear to possess the broad-based critical appeal to unite a judging panel. Of the acts rated at 6/1, La Roux's self-titled debut is probably the best-placed, being the list's only other album currently in the charts, and the sole representative of the electropop revival; Bat For Lashes's Two Suns is a much blander prospect than her 2006 debut, leading some to suspect she may be just the Stevie Nicks of her generation, rather than the Kate Bush; while Glasvegas's eponymous debut has tarnished somewhat since its release last year.
The rest are just makeweights, a bin-bag of nice middle-class landfill indie (the Horrors, Friendly Fire, the Invisible), low-grade folktronic art-rock (Sweet Billy Pilgrim) and furrow-browed jaaazz (Led Bib), mediocre folk-rock (Lisa Hannigan) and hand-wringing, artfully piteous crossover hip-hop (Speech Debelle). Is the nominating panel seriously suggesting that any of these would be a deserving act to present to the rest of the world as the pinnacle of current UK music?
I have no quarrel with what appears to be an attempt to distance the Mercury Prize from the Brit Awards. But several obvious and deserving contenders have been unjustly ignored in the process – amongst them Doves, the Streets, Roots Manuva, Madness, Paolo Nutini, Van Morrison and Paul McCartney, whose album as The Fireman ( Electric Arguments) contained some of his most absorbing music in years. And the alternatives chosen instead seem a lazy, slapdash mix of the obscure and the trendy, when the likes of Metronomy, Fujiya & Miyagi, the Real Tuesday Weld, Chicken Legs Weaver, the Duckworth Lewis Method and Micachu have all released more engagingly intriguing albums.
But it's at the margins that the shortlist fails most comprehensively to reflect the breadth of what's really happening in British music. In particular, our national propensity for cultural cross-fertilisation has been almost completely ignored, despite the opportunity to draw attention to such excellent releases as those by Bellowhead, Dub Colossus, King Creosote, Justin Adams & Juldeh Camara, the Matthew Herbert Big Band, and Damon Albarn's Monkey soundtrack, to name but a few.
Real innovation, it seems, scores less on the Mercuro-meter than the limp blend of the witchy and the glitchy that passes for sonic adventurism these days, if this shortlist is to be believed.