The Mercury Prize is still struggling to acknowledge innovative UK music

Noel Gallagher, Lily Allen, Everything Everything and Wolf Alice all feel like rather tame picks compared to last year

Mercury Prize 2018: List of nominees

The shortlist for the 2018 Hyundai Mercury prize has been announced, and, as is tradition, it’s causing considerable debate.

Where last year’s shortlist felt strong because it heralded the young artists leading the future of British music – from Loyle Carner to Stormzy, Glass Animals, Sampha and J Hus – this year, half the acts have previously appeared on a Mercury Prize shortlist in some shape or form, and many of the choices feel like safe, commercial picks, rather than bold or innovative works.

Arctic Monkeys appear on the shortlist for a fourth time, for their divisive album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, while Florence & The Machine score a third nod for their album High As Hope.

Pleasant surprises come in the shape of 21-year-old rapper Novelist, who scores a spot on the shortlist for his fantastic, self-produced debut album Novelist Guy, as did Nadine Shah, who makes a powerful statement with her third album Holiday Destination, which was inspired by witnessing the xenophobia of holidaymakers on the Greek island of Kos.

There are some great albums on there, but also some woeful omissions. While Sons of Kemet should be applauded for their album Your Queen Is A Reptile, fans of Kamaal Williams will be wondering why his album The Return didn’t make it. Jon Hopkins and Four Tet would both have been suitable picks; electronic music is almost entirely absent from this year’s shortlist.

Where in past years critics have joked about the annual “token jazz album”, this year jazz has been an essential element on many of the best releases of the past year – not just in “pure” jazz albums but also in works by the likes of Tom Misch and DJs such as Floating Points and Bradley Zero, who have brought jazz to clubs floors around the UK. It wouldn’t have been remiss of the Mercury Prize to include more than one album on this year’s shortlist.

Similarly, it fails to highlight a re-invigorated and youthful UK rock scene: the omission of five-piece noise rock band Hookworms and their album Microshift feels criminal (although the band have already said they aren’t fussed) – while Shame also deserved a nod for their debut Songs of Praise. Goat Girl’s playful, surrealist exploration of post-adolescence on their self-titled debut felt like another easy miss.

Instead, both Wolf Alice and Everything Everything return to the shortlist for a second time, and while you could argue their case with relative ease, the picks still feel tame compared to so many of the other potential choices.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and the album Who Built The Moon? is utterly uninspired; a forgettable record that seems irrelevant to what’s going on now in British music. Lily Allen, too, is shortlisted four albums too late, with No Shame, as good as it is, not coming close to her resplendent debut Alright, Still.

The Mercury Prize has consistently, stubbornly refused to lay out in clear terms what its actual purpose is. Many have noted how it tends to give its winners an extra push towards commercial success, with each successful album receiving a bump in sales after the announcement in September. But that’s not really a valid reason to hold an annual music prize.

The Brits are the UK’s award for commercial success, although last year they seemed to go to some effort to be more inclusive, and a little more aware of how broad the UK music scene really is. So the Mercury Prize can easily fill that space where the most innovative, ambitious and contemporary music is recognised. Judging from this year’s shortlist, that’s not what we’re going to see this time round.

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