FEATURE: The Hyundai Mercury Prize 2017: The Shortlist



The Hyundai Mercury Prize 2017: 

IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Tempest 

 The Shortlist


THIS morning, the shortlist for this year’s Mercury Prize was…


announced on BBC Radio 6 Music – I will drop the ‘Hyundai’ part as the idea of sponsoring music awards makes me want to barf blood. It is an incredible list and one that, as one would expect, is eclectic and unexpected. I include all the albums that have been shortlisted; the odds they have been given and will end with my favourite from the rundown – the one I feel will scoop the prize on the night.


The twelve 2017 Hyundai Mercury Prize judges are: Phil Alexander - Editor-in-Chief, Mojo and Q; Clara Amfo - Broadcaster; Jamie Cullum - Musician and Broadcaster; Ella Eyre - Musician and Songwriter; Harriet Gibsone - Music News Editor, The Guardian/TheGuardian.com; Lianne La Havas - Musician and Songwriter; Will Hodgkinson - Chief Rock & Pop Critic The Times; MistaJam - DJ & Broadcaster; Marcus Mumford - Musician and Songwriter; Jeff Smith - Head of Music, 6 Music and Radio 2; Jessie Ware - Musician and Songwriter; and Mike Walsh - Head of Music, Radio X. The Chair of the judging panel is the music executive, Tony Wadsworth CBE.

The Awards Show will be held at the Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith on Thursday, 14th September, 2017.



What the Critics Said:

The Daily Telegraph:

"The inscrutability of lyricists is nothing new in rock culture, though it can be especially frustrating when songs offer tantalising glimpses of meaning obscured by references so abstract they could only resonate with the author. It is this aspect of wilful obscurity that still makes Alt J an intriguing band rather than an essential one. Relaxer dazzles and delights the ears yet still feels like the work of a band who might have something to say, if they weren’t too precious to actually come out and say it".

Current Odds (Ladbrokes): 8/1

Blossoms Blossoms

What the Critics Said:


"Blossoms have a sound that brings garage rock and pop together, and their debut is worth filing alongside Temples, The 1975 and Catfish and the Bottlemen.

Not every track on the record would make as strong a single as ‘Charlemagne’ but with an album that flows so well, its nice to have moments that break up the lively nature of the album. Blossoms have produced an album of perfectly structured songs accompanied by strong lyrics that tell many tales to the large cult they seem to have already acquired".

Current Odds: 16/1

Dinosaur Together, As One

What the Critics Said:

Evening Standard:

"This debut band album features her longstanding quartet, a supergroup of sorts featuring keyboardist Elliot Galvin, bassist Conor Chaplin and Corrie Dick, a revelation on driving, West African-flavoured kit drums.

Ideas and moods jostle through eight originals including the ambient Awakening, the multiple keyboarddriven Steadily Sinking and Extinct, a simmering nine-minute excursion that finds Jurd revelling in her knack for improvisation, deft use of space and elegant, melodic lines".

Current Odds: 22/1

Ed Sheeran - % (Divide)

What the Critics Said:


"There’s nothing here with the incongruous sex appeal of ‘Sing’, everyman Ed’s saucy 2014 collaboration with Pharrell Williams, and the rap verses on ‘Eraser’ indicate Suffolk’s finest has less than wicked flow. But his latest album is as likeable as he seems in interviews: assured but unassuming and sometimes hard to fathom. There’s probably a mathematical formula to Ed Sheeran’s success, but he’s the only one who can crunch the numbers".

Current Odds: 14/1

Glass Animals How to Be a Human Being

What the Critics Said:

The 405:

"The painstaking planning of this album reminds me of the work process of Guillermo Del Toro, who illustrates storyboards, characters, and scenes before any pre-production. Through this consideration, he creates worlds within cinema much in a way Zaba became a musical universe. There's a reason there is no sequel to Pan's Labyrinth much in the way How to Be a Human Being is not an extension of its predecessor more so an original entity altogether. Although elements remain, the core of humanity and character drive this collection to an equally intriguing effect and leaves a far more immediate impression".

Current Odds: 12/1

J Hus Common Sense

What the Critics Said:

The Guardian:

"While Common Sense finds the Stratford singer/rapper going indulgently long at 17 tracks, the quality is undoubtedly consistent – be it the richly produced Bouf Daddy, the dancehall-inflected, hazy Fisherman or the sun-drenched Good Time, featuring Burna Boy. J Hus imbues an admirable introspection to his bangers, as likely to bring in his Ghanaian heritage or consider his past illicit behaviours as he is to spit wry bars on smoking and partying. This is 2017’s zeitgeist Notting Hill carnival soundtrack".

Current Odds: 9/1

Kate TempestLet Them Eat Chaos

What the Critics Said:

The Guardian:

"Her musical restlessness underpins that message, constantly changing tempo and tone, with the feeling that one could be plunged from a lullaby to a piece of savagely fast-paced satire; a clever reference to Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall, a brilliantly downbeat sampling of Sister Sledge’s Thinking of You. But perhaps Tempest’s greatest achievement is not to fall prey to the pressure for unnecessary revolution; her work sits more comfortably in the tradition of perfecting the groove, not changing it. That perfection might be illusion, but its pursuit can produce wonderful work, as it has right here.".

Current Odds: 6/1

Loyle Carner Yesterday’s Gone

What the Critics Said:


"‘Yesterday’s Gone’ might be a humble record, but Loyle Carner doesn’t hold back on quick-smart wit either. “They ask why every fucking song the fucking same,” Loyle quips in ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’ before turning his focus towards a cutting analysis of stagnation and loneliness. In truth, Loyle’s endlessly inventive…The universe of ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ might be a small one, but Loyle Carner’s scope is far from a tight-knit bunch of arbitrary themes. Letting endless threads unravel, in vivid detail, this album might creep up on you at first, but make no mistake, its creativity and poetry will floor you".

Current Odds: 8/1

Stormzy Gang Signs & Prayer

What the Critics Said:

The Independent:

"‘Overall, Gang Signs & Prayer is a daring debut. Stormzy could have played it safe with this album, but rather challenged himself with gospel. A key factor about this album is the complexities to Stormzy’s character—displaying a multi-dimensional black British man who goes against a simplified image that’s usually portrayed. Balance makes this album beautiful, as Stormzy worships on "Blinded by Your Grace Pt 1 & 2," falls in love on "Velvet" and raps his socks off on "Cold." Gang Signs & Prayer is a multi-faceted masterpiece and a testament to Stormzy’s talent that warrants his phenomenal rise to the top".

Current Odds: 7/2 (Favourite)

The Big Moon - Love in the 4th Dimension

 What the Critics Said:

The Guardian:

"As if recorded on a grotty Camden bar crawl, the quartet’s debut crashes and careens, as romantic as it is ramshackle, with Pixies-style quiet/loud contrasts a staple structure of their songs. Hopeless love story Cupid is a cross between early Libertines and Freakin’ Out-era Graham Coxon, its lyrics berating the sugary-drink-fuelled braggadocio of a misguided lothario (“He said, ‘I’m gonna make the Earth shake tonight’ / Pineapple juice, tropical Rubicon courage!”). There’s a rudimental rock’n’roll quality to its composition, and the soporific vocal style of Juliette Jackson – which recalls Sleeper’s Louise Wener at times – weaves a wry, stoic narrative throughout the chaos. Nostalgia for noughties and Britpop guitar hits echoes throughout – but played by a gang of twentysomethings, its wide-eyed conviction amplifies the emotional carnage".

Current Odds: 18/1 

The xx I See You

What the Critics Said:


"A blast of synthetic horns gives way to a Burial-esque beat and Oli Sim and Romy harmonising on a shuffling chorus straight from a ’90s garage rave, “You are dangerous but I don’t care/I’m going to pretend that I’m not scared.” The vibrancy continues. ‘Say Something’ is lush and glowing. ‘A Violet Noise’ is Oli singing over a Euro-house backbone and the Hall & Oates sampling lead single ‘Hold On’, come summer, will sound huge in the festival fields…They find a balance with the old xx though. Fragility and self-doubt are still themes. Indeed, the highlight is Romy’s pensive, vulnerable ballad ‘Performance’. “I’ll put on a performance/I’ll put on a brave face,” she confesses, accompanied by a single, guitar and scurrying violins. ‘I See You’ is not simply an album then, but a moment of realisation. The moment where The xx stop glancing shyly at their reflection and confront themselves in the mirror. What they discover is infectious".

Current Odds: 7/1 


Sampha Process

What the Critics Said:

The Guardian:

"There is no such thing as a shoo-in for the Mercury prize, an award whose breadth of reference is admirably erratic. But you can’t help but feel that the debut album by Sampha Sisay, Process, might be the record to beat this year. Distinctly British, sonically restless and emotionally action-packed, Process starts with a bleep and a squawk, and ends with Sampha beating himself up for not visiting his brother. “It’s not all about me,” he mutters mournfully on What Shouldn’t I Be?. He beats himself up fairly regularly. On Timmy’s Prayer it’s a lost love. “I’m on the floor trying to dress my wounds/ Address the fact it was mine to lose…”…Elsewhere, Sampha mourns his mother, who died in 2015 after enduring cancer.(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano is the album’s big ballad, depicting the introverted, youngest child of five who became himself through the instrument. If Sampha’s process sounds like one big downer, it isn’t. Every listen throws up some new, previously unnoticed innovation.".

Current Odds: 4/1 

 IN THIS PHOTO: Laura Marling

I am glad the list includes my favourites – Loyle Carner, Kate Tempest and Sampha – but there are, as many have alluded to, some notable omissions. I was certain, not only would Laura Marling be on the list – there was a good chance she would win it. I am shocked Semper Femina is not there as it is a wonderful Folk record that has no real comparisons on the Mercury list – albums that have a similar flavour. It is a gap that needed to be represented and, in sheer terms of quality, Marling’s latest record was worthy of a spot. Jane Weaver, similarly, is someone everyone felt would make the cut – one of our finest songwriters and most solid talents. IDLES, perhaps, one of the very few genuine and promising new bands of the moment did not see their L.P., Brutalism, represented – many feel this is an attempt to ignore the underground and new acts. I am glad there are bands in the nominations – alt-J and Blossoms – but, in my mind, neither produced an album that gained widespread acclaim – neither solid or memorable enough to warrant a prestigious. My feelings towards Ed Sheeran’s music are well known – the fact his album, %/Divide, made the list has shocked many. It seems the voting panel was trying to reflect a more mainstream and Pop-inclusive tone this year. Dinosaur and The Big Moon are this year’s typical outsider/quirky choices: I feel the latter has a good chance of winning the thing; maybe the former, for that matter...


In a year when political and social anger has fuelled Mercury nominations – Kate Tempest, Stormzy and Loyle Carner – one would feel there’d be space for the critical hit of English Tapas - from the ever-reliable Sleaford Mods. Their album resonated and connected with critics but perhaps a line needed to be drawn. Marika Hackman is another name that could have made the grade – sad she was not mentioned. I suppose we have some genuine stars and achievers on the list; albums that have helped define British music. I want Sampha to win but feel Kate Tempest and Loyle Carner are both worthy winners. Encouraging to see previous include-es like Tempest and alt-J on the rundown; the newcomers like Loyle Carner and Stormzy being given a boost. Maybe the ignored will draw bigger reactions than those who have actually made the shortlist. If an outside-bet like Ed Sheeran or Blossoms wins the awards: maybe a bookies’ favourite like Sampha will come through – you can never tell with the Mercury Prize. It is going to be fascinating to see who walks away with the gong on 14th September. One thing we do know is that, with the Mercury Prize, one can never guess…


WHAT will happen on the night.