THE MERCURY PRIZE 2023: Shortlist verdict
Our music bloggers share their thoughts on the 12 shortlisted albums
How did it match up to expectations? And was the announcement better or worse than hoped for? To answer these questions, we've assembled a group of music bloggers to share their thoughts alongside 5-9 editor, Andrew Belt.
Before sharing our reactions, here's a recap of the 12 albums on the shortlist:
Arctic Monkeys - The Car
Ezra Collective - Where I'm Meant to Be
Fred again.. - Actual Life 3 (January 1 - September 9 2022)
J Hus - Beautiful and Brutal Yard
Jessie Ware - That! Feels Good!
Jockstrap - I Love You Jennifer B
Lankum - False Lankum
Loyle Carner - hugo
Olivia Dean - Messy
RAYE - My 21st Century Blues
Shygirl - Nymph
Young Fathers - Heavy Heavy
"No Little Simz?!"
Andrew Belt - 5-9 editor
I enjoyed putting together my predictions in the week and felt pretty confident that a few of these would land. A scan through the list confirmed my predictions that Jessie Ware, Jockstrap and Young Fathers (the only artist in my top 12) would make it. I had considered The Car but thought it wouldn't quite make the cut. Instead, the Arctic Monkeys land a fifth nomination, keeping up an impressive record with the awards.
It was only on a second read that I saw it - or rather didn't see it - no Little Simz?! If I would have put money on any album making the list, NO THANK YOU would have been the one. Maybe not quite as extraordinary as the previous year's Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, but close and certainly close enough to merit consideration to emulate last year's Mercury Prize winner.
What's notable to me about the list is the lack of indie and rock bands, with Arctic Monkeys the only representatives of the genre/s. Looking back at the list of nominees and winners from previous years, there has always been a strong contingent of indie/rock acts but this feels like a departure from the Prize's heritage which simply acknowledges the wide variety of artists doing the UK proud. Conspicuous by its absence was a truly under-the-radar pick or a classical/electronic selection in the vein of Fergus McCreadie, Anna Meredith or Hannah Peel - all brilliant choices. Lankum perhaps fits into the former category, but overall it comes across as a surprisingly mainstream list.
Ahead of listening to them all (with only a paltry three already accounted for), I'm looking forward to listening to That! Feels Good! having heard such positive things about it from fellow Album of the Month podcasters, Karl and Kiley, and Lankum and Loyle Carner's albums are also ones I'm excited to dive into. As ever, however, will go into it with an open mind and look forward to discovering gems which I wouldn't have otherwise - the enduring beauty of the Prize.
"An exciting, eclectic mix of albums!"
Karl Blakesley - New Music Weekly editor, contributor to Gigwise and Headstuff and 5-9 Album of the Month podcaster
The Mercury Prize nominations announcement is usually my Christmas Day, with always a chunk of records I've not heard before and get to discover for the first time. This year is different though, as there is incredibly only one record (Shygirl) that I've not listened to previously. So less discovery and more re-discovery with this year's shortlist, but as ever an exciting, eclectic mix of albums!
In terms of the nominees themselves, although highly divisive, it's great to see Arctic Monkeys get another nod, making it five for them and six for Alex Turner now. The Car finished in my Top 10 records of 2022 and it only gets better with each listen for me - genuinely think it is one of their best albums to date. Loyle Carner as well I was rooting for back when he got nominated for Yesterday's Gone in 2017 and hugo is very much up there with that debut record. Young Fathers of course are previous winners, so although I think it's unlikely they get the overall award again, it's great to see Heavy Heavy included on there - still one of 2023's best for me (and 5-9's Album of the Month podcast winner in February, of course! - ed).
Little Simz is the big omission for me. Whilst I'm not too surprised she's not there simply on the basis she only just won it last year and the judges may have wanted to spotlight other artists, I think NO THANK YOU still deserved the recognition. An album every bit as remarkable as it's Prize-winning predecessor and one that finished in joint-first on my Albums of 2022 list.
In terms of who I think has a chance, there's a couple of names standing out already. Jessie Ware has delivered two incredible dance records back-to-back, with this year's That! Feels Good! marginally my favourite of the two and up there with 2023's best. Think if she were to win, it would be deserving recognition for not just this record, but its predecessor too. Elsewhere, I know Lankum and Jockstrap are both strong cult favourites in their genre, so although I couldn't get to grips with them myself I think they have a strong chance too. One thing is for sure though, it is wide open this year - roll on September!
"This year's list is a bit sterile"
Kiley Larsen - Check This Out! editor, Mama Mañana Records founder and 5-9 Album of the Month podcaster
This is the last time I'm talking about The Car. As a Tranquility Base fan, I find the Arctic Monkeys digging further into snooze-worthy lounge music unsatisfying - this isn't to say I want them to return to their indie garage rock days. I might not care about them anymore, and the Glastonbury set did nothing to reel me back in. As I noted back in January, ol' Gaz Coombes made a much better version of The Car with the fantastic Turn the Car Around, and no one is talking about that one (except, ahem, me - ed).
Moving on from the Monkeys, my favourites are Jessie Ware and Young Fathers - two records in my top ten list for the year seven months in. Ware's much-needed good-time anthems on That! Feels Good! are a breath of fresh air, and she deserves this nomination after being skipped over for for the last decade. Meanwhile, former Prize winners Young Fathers released their career best with Heavy Heavy this year, which could put them in the rare air of being multi-time winners.
This year's list is a bit sterile, with most coming from major labels. Yes, that's the way of the industry these days, but The Mercury Prize was usually a place for this Yankee to pick up a few new things I've missed, yet I've heard of all but the jazz masters (Better Than) Ezra Collective this time. I'm looking forward to revisiting some of these that may have yet to click the first time around.
"This list is safe"
Andy Peterson - Voice of Unreason editor, Live4ever Media music writer and 5-9 monthly music blog contributor
All in all, an underwhelming list which spans genres but, in the nominations, stays well within its lane. That's not to say that there aren't some great albums - Loyle Carner brought the house down recently at Glastonbury, the inclusion of Lankum is welcome and Jessie Ware is tremendous fun - but whilst I loved The Car, is it there on merit?
And Fred Again - seriously ? They might as well have opted for Harry Styles.
This list is safe and written by the winners, and the Mercury Prize continues to decrease in relevance a result.
P.S. Fingers crossed Young Fathers win a second gong for Heavy Heavy!
"There doesn't seem to be any obvious winners there"
Adam Reeve - Dead Good Music editor and 5-9 monthly music blog contributor
I'm quite surprised by the shortlist this year as there doesn't seem to be any obvious winners there. There aren't too many massive names - more upcoming artists and veterans who have been at it for years.
I wouldn't mind if Arctic Monkeys won as The Car is good, but I'm fully aware of how divisive it and their new sound is. (The Glastonbury performance highlighted this divide well.)
Jessie Ware and Young Fathers have been quietly dropping some of the best records of the last few years so it would be nice to see them win, although Fred again has been receiving a lot of praise and is climbing the ranks, so it might go to him too.
The Mercury Prize 2023 winner will be announced on 7 September, 2023. Keep your eyes out for a Mercury Prize special podcast close to this date!