The Mercury Prize is an annual prize given to the best album in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Since its inception in 1992, the prize has gone through a series of different sponsors, but its mission to reward the best album of the year has remained consistent.

A list of nominees is drawn up by a panel of musicians, music journalists and leading figures in the music industry. Even a simple nomination, particularly for the lesser-known artists, can provide a huge boost for album sales, though not everyone is that keen on the award.

My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields told The Guardian earlier this year that he questioned the nomination criteria, as well as banning MBV’s new album, M B V from being nominated. This is a view shared by many in the music industry, such as Damon Albarn, who asked for Gorillaz’ 2001 debut album to be withdrawn, stating that winning the award would be “like carrying a dead albatross around your neck for eternity”.

Traditionally, the Mercury Prize has a reputation for rewarding the left-field nominations, although it must be noted here that no classical, jazz or folk artist has ever won. Anthony and the Johnsons’ win in 2005 perhaps stands out as the biggest shock, but many questioned their eligibility for the prize, considering they were only based in the United Kingdom and were, in fact, born in the USA.

As for the class of 2013, it is expected to be a close-fought battle between David Bowie’s The Next Day and Arctic Monkeys’ AM. Interestingly, unlike the Arctic Monkeys, Bowie has never won the award and, were he to win, he would join the likes of Primal Scream, PJ Harvey and The xx. Other competition this year comes from third-time nominee, Laura Marling, fiery all-girl post-punks, Savages, and born-again indie-dance act, Foals.

Alex Neely

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Image: bbc.co.uk.

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