This year’s Mercury Prize shortlist, it’s alright, eh? Damon Albarn, Kate Tempest, Young Fathers, East India Youth, FKA twigs, Jungle and more – there’s no denying it’s a dozen of quality that, while perhaps lacking excitement in some areas, definitely says that British music is doing okay right now.
The winner of the Prize will be announced on October 30th, with FKA twigs and Kate Tempest currently leading at the bookies. Whoever emerges triumphant, it’ll be a career high that’ll last forever in the memory. But in previous years, plenty of worthy albums, genuine record of the year types, have been nominated only to fall at the final hurdle.
Here’s seven albums that were nominated for the Mercury, lost out, but are still firm favourites with at Clash HQ. All of them are winners to us – but we’re not sending anyone a cheque for £20,000, okay.
Click the images above to scroll through the album covers
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Wild Beasts – ‘Two Dancers’
Nominated in 2010 (winner: The xx – ‘xx’)
Plenty of tips for the 2014 Mercury were putting Wild Beasts’ ‘Present Tense’ LP of earlier this year, their highest-charting set yet, in the frame for a nomination. But it’s ‘Two Dancers’ that stands as not only their most engrossingly unique album yet, but a creative high watermark which firmly stamped their peculiar imprint on Britain’s pop psyche. ‘Hooting & Howling’ and ‘We Still Got The Taste Dancing On Our Tongues’ are live favourites to this day, their classiness evident in their timelessness. Hugely acclaimed, and number one on the (2009) year-end list of The Fly, ‘Two Dancers’ is an intimate exercise in expressing one’s most shadowy romantic liaisons, balanced by accessible (albeit especially slanted) riffs and melodies.
Related: Wild Beasts discuss their new album
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PJ Harvey – ‘Rid Of Me’
Nominated in 1993 (winner: Suede – ‘Suede’)
She’s the only artist, so far, to win the Mercury twice – in 2001 for ‘Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea’, and 2011 for ‘Let England Shake’ – but for many, Polly Jean should have walked away with the top honour several years earlier. ‘Rid Of Me’ is the singer’s second solo LP and the kind of red-raw listen that just can’t quit in its sensory attack. It broke her in the States, attracting ample college radio play, and charted domestically at three – a full 20 places higher than ‘Stories…’. Successful in the press and a hit commercially, ‘Rid Of Me’ had all the qualities needed to win something like the Mercury – but perhaps it’s right that Suede ultimately won, with their debut set remaining an irresistible high amongst Britpop’s most daring.
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The Prodigy – ‘Music For The Jilted Generation’
Nominated in 1994 (winner: M People – ‘Elegant Slumming’)
No doubt about it: ‘Elegant Slumming’ is the most controversial Mercury winner yet, its victory from a shortlist featuring Blur’s ‘Parklife’, Pulp’s ‘His N Hers’ and Paul Weller’s ‘Wild Wood’ causing many a critic to question what the panel was drinking on the night of the award ceremony. Also nominated was this, probably the most important British dance album of the 1990s, which saw underground rave culture reach for rock crowds, take on the festival circuit and beat it bloody. The Prodigy’s power would grow, with ‘Firestarter’ and their ‘The Fat Of The Land’ LP – a Mercury nomination in 1997. But it’s with ‘…Jilted Generation’ that the Essex boys properly realised long-form communication as a means to spread their singular brand of sonic poison.
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Amy Winehouse – ‘Back To Black’
Nominated in 2007 (winner: Klaxons – ‘Myths Of The Near Future’)
Winehouse’s final recorded statement proper, ‘Back To Black’ is trend-resistant soul shot through with all the realities of a modern life forever affected by turbulence. It witnessed the amazing growth of its central talent, who managed to find her voice like she couldn’t, quite, consistently, on the preceding ‘Frank’ of 2003. Backed by production by Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi, Winehouse was never given a better vehicle for her talents – and the album’s topping of the UK albums chart, and success overseas (number two stateside, top five pretty much anywhere you care to look), was just reward for everyone’s efforts in bringing it together. Klaxons were having a moment, but when, really, was the last time you listened to ‘Myths…’? Whereas ‘Back To Black’ continues to sell, and is now eight-times platinum in Europe alone.
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The Streets – ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free’
Nominated in 2004 (winner: Franz Ferdinand – ‘Franz Ferdinand’)
2004 was maybe the year of Mercury artists having their ‘moment’ – winners Franz have, for many a man’s money, never bettered their eponymous debut collection, while others like Joss Stone, Snow Patrol and Keane were peaking, creatively and commercially. Amongst the shortlisted LPs, though, it’s Mike Skinner’s second (The) Streets set which stands out as the most at-the-time striking release in contention, and one which has stood up to the test of time remarkably well – simply because nobody’s ever gone about emulating The Streets in any successful fashion. Ignore the ‘rap opera’ selling point and just dive into a murky world of missing money, bad clubbing and broken hearts. ‘Fit But You Know It’ might have rankled some sensitive sorts back when, but it’s a fun romp heard today, and ‘Dry Your Eyes’ is some of the best bruised songwriting, matter-of-fact but arrestingly sincere, anyone’s committed to tape this side of 2000.
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Burial – ‘Untrue’
Nominated in 2008 (winner: Elbow – ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’)
Definitely marking the first time the Mercury unearthed an underground act to the mainstream which had the tabloid press rabidly investigating their identity – and, hopefully, the last – Burial’s nomination saw dubstep begin to creep into the wider consciousness, and spread across British culture. Much quieter, and more meditative, than what’s classified under the genre today, ‘Untrue’ collected an array of samples beside busy but intimate beat-work to comprise an early AM soundtrack for city-living comedown-ers. Its maker emphasised his love for “raw, rolling drums” throughout the set’s run time, but ‘Untrue’ is no instant-fix floor-filler. Fact’s acknowledgment of the album as “a fabulous new strain of future soul” sounds about right – this felt like music you knew, muddled into a form you didn’t. And it still fascinates today.
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Radiohead – ‘OK Computer’
Nominated in 1997 (winner: Roni Size/Reprazent – ‘New Forms’)
Now, we’ve nothing against Roni Size – ‘New Forms’ was, remains, a good record. But, c’mon, really? ‘OK Computer’ should have walked this – and despite earning four nominations across their career, its makers are yet to win the Mercury. A sacred cow amongst rock’s elite or a bona-fide ‘best album of all time’ contender? As time passes, so opinions split as to the merits of Radiohead’s chart-topping third LP. But in 1997, this was the album you had to own. At least, that’s how it felt to a teenager travelling to Cardiff in the middle of winter to see them perform it live, getting an hour’s sleep in a bus shelter ahead of the first train homewards. It was an album that made people do silly things – and aren’t they the best records, really?
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Seven picks from us – but what are your favourite LPs to have been up for the Mercury but not made off with the prize? Tricky’s ‘Maxinquaye’, perhaps, which lost to the (equally excellent) ‘Dummy’, by Portishead, in 1995? Maybe you feel that ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory’ should have won in 1996, rather than Pulp’s ‘Different Class’? Or Bowie just last year – should his ‘The Next Day’ have forged ahead of James Blake’s ‘Overgrown’? Let us know on Twitter.