Tonight (September 14), the winner of the Hyundai Mercury Prize will finally be announced. Indeed, as Music Week has already revealed, it is quite possible to argue there have already been multiple victors given that, on average, the 12 nominated albums increased their sales by 15.11% in the six weeks between the shortlist being announced and Friday’s chart, the last before the ceremony. However, before today’s final verdict is given this evening, Music Week’s staff have decided to weigh in on who deserves to be taking the award home this year and join the illustrious list of previous winners…
THE BIG MOON - LOVE IN THE 4TH DIMENSION
The early years of the Mercury Prize were largely dominated by guitar bands. True, Portishead, Roni Size and M People’s Elegant Slumming all won – the latter perhaps the most baffling election result of all time until Trump/Brexit came along – but the Prize’s default position was always to defer to the latest indie rock darlings. Nowadays, however, guitars seem about as likely to scoop the album of the year prize as, well, M People. So, in the same way that the Mercury once boosted the trip-hop and drum and bass scenes with its endorsement, it could now give poor, ailing old indie a much-needed injection of vitality. And if the judges did decide to go down that road, The Big Moon should surely be their choice. “I’m going to get this perfectly right,” Juliette Jackson sings on Cupid and that’s precisely what Love In The 4th Dimension does throughout: fusing Britpop swagger, post-grunge menace and the most irresistible tunes this side of a Little Mix Greatest Hits into a heady album that hits harder than anything homegrown alternative rock has come up with in ages. If it had come out in the ‘90s (which, to be fair, it probably could have done), it would have been a serious contender, so why not now? Of course, it won’t happen. But then again, that’s what they said about Elegant Slumming…
Mark Sutherland, Editor
STORMZY - GANG SIGNS & PRAYER
So much has been written about Stomzy’s Gang Signs & Prayer at this point it feels almost self-defeating to add to the litany of accrued praise. And yet that is precisely why he should win the Mercury Prize: judged against any criteria, Gang Signs & Prayer is an important record – that rare breed of an album that can lay claim to mass critical acclaim, enormous commercial success and one of the most impressive press campaigns of recent memory. In the towering form of Big For Your Boots Stormzy quite possibly delivered the best single of 2017, but it’s in the deep cuts that the album continues to take root in the mind – look no further than the introspection and soul-searching of 100 Bags and Lay Me Bare. That all of the above can also be viewed in a wider context as a watermark of where British music stands in 2017 matters, too. He might have been showered in praise and accolades a million times before, but that shouldn’t detract from the point in hand: Stormzy deserves this.
George Garner, Deputy editor
THE XX – I SEE YOU
The xx are not just worthy winners of the Mercury Prize, they're worthy double winners. In the award's 25-year history, only PJ Harvey has received the Mercury on two occasions. Having won in 2010 for their debut, The xx must be strong contenders to do the double with their sublime third album. I See You underlines the impact their signature sound – shimmering grooves, majestic minimalism – has had on songwriting and the media in recent years (you can hear The xx in Zara Larsson’s Lush Life and Bastille’s Power, to mention just a couple of examples, as well as in innumerable TV sports montages). While the band's second album didn’t quite pass muster, they've clearly been revitalised by Jamie xx's 2015 solo record (also Mercury-nominated). Some of the seductive songs on I See You step it up a gear, but the sultry, skeletal arrangements and vocal interplay of Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim are a reassuring presence. Like their debut, it’s an album you’ll be listening to for years to come.
Andre Paine, News editor
J HUS - COMMON SENSE
If the judges are going to give the prize to the artist who illustrates the current strength of the UK music scene most, then it has to go to J Hus and Common Sense. This record – and don’t forget, it’s a debut – is that lesser-spotted rarity: an album that commands equal respect wherever it’s played, from inner-city barber shops and nail salons, to bars, clubs and festivals. It’s easy to appreciate what Black Butter saw in J Hus, and Common Sense packs plentiful bangers (Did You See, Common Sense, Clartin…) alongside songs that tell the story of J Hus, a young man who used his talent to forge a better life (Friendly, Spirit). The press run in the build up to the ceremony has seen magazine covers come thick and fast – and you can revisit his Music Week cover story here – and there’s a real sense that Hus’ time is now.
Ben Homewood, Senior staff writer
GLASS ANIMALS - HOW TO BE A HUMAN BEING
The Oxford indie rockers have shown that modest sales are no barrier to live success, headlining O2 Academy Brixton back in March and proving one of the standout acts at this year’s Reading & Leeds festivals. A concept album (of sorts), How To Be A Human Being is a terrific record, with echoes of Radiohead and Wild Beasts permeating through tracks such as Life Itself and Season 2 Episode 3. Only their second long-player, there’s still so much more to come. A Mercury Prize win could be the catalyst to take Glass Animals to the next level - then watch them fly.
James Hanley, Senior staff writer
SAMPHA - PROCESS
We’ve waited eight years for Sampha to give us this debut album, and what an eight years it’s been: collabs with Drake, Solange, SBTRKT, Jessie Ware, to name but a few. And Process doesn’t disappoint. Blood on Me is the clear standout track, tense and urgent, and it is where Process’s detailed production really reveals itself — a track you can’t stop listening to. Process marks an important shift in Sampha’s career, as he becomes comfortable producing more complex, layered tracks. Plastic 100°C is another well-built track and its textures (contrast this to the live piano version) robustly back up Sampha’s soft, mournful vocals. For those who’ve followed Sampha for a while, the stripped-back (No One Knows Me) Like The Piano gives you a dose of the old simple goodness — delicate piano lines driving along his powerful singing voice. Sampha has become more and more experimental, exciting, and confident over the years. Process is a beautiful, haunting, inspiring journey through grief and mourning after the sad passing of Sampha’s mother. True to usual form, the choruses on Process stick with you for months.
Charlie Macnamara, Music Week writer