Mercury Music Prize: Never mind Noel Gallagher, this could be jazz's year

Noel Gallagher watches Manchester City win the Premier League
Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds are 8/1 to win the Mercury Music Prize

The shortlist for the Mercury Music Prize 2018 has been announced and, while some of the nominees are familiar from previous years, there are still some exciting betting opportunities, says Max Liu...

"It's long been speculated that one day a jazz album will win the Mercury Music Prize. For my money, Sons of Kemet's Your Queen is a Reptile has the best chance yet, although I would have liked longer odds than 6/1..."

The boring stuff first: Arctic Monkeys, Florence + the Machine and Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds have all been nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. As the chart-topping acts on the list, that trio make the headlines, but are they worth backing - all priced at 8/1 - to take the prize when the winner is announced on 20 September?

Don't get burned backing the big names

The Arctics and F+TM have both been here before, with the former winning for their debut in 2006 and receiving two subsequent nominations. I don't see them becoming only the second act to win this prize twice. Florence, meanwhile, was the favourite in 2009 before losing out to 15/1 outsider Speech Debelle (tipped by yours truly). In 2018, I wouldn't back Arctic Monkeys or Florence + the Machine.

Gallagher's nomination for Who Built the Moon? is regrettable and retrograde, especially when you consider some of the judges' omissions: Let's Eat Grandma - 5/1 pre-shortlist - weren't born when Oasis were last relevant. Sadly, the Norwich duo's second album misses out, as does, among others, impressive long players from Goat Girl and Jon Hopkins.

On the other hand, Lily Allen at 8/1 for her bold and refreshing No Shame is a nice surprise. It would be a shock, though, were it to triumph when the winner is announced on September 20.

Debut album is unlikely to win this time

Unusually for a prize that, in its 25-year history, has been won by 20 first albums (with the last four Mercury Prizes going to debuts), there are only two on the list. So what of their chances?

Jorja Smith has a gorgeous voice and, after enjoying her collaborations with Kendrick Lamar and Stormzy, I had high hopes for her debut Lost and Found. With notable exceptions, though, it's a little bland and sounds too weak to win. At 6/1, Smith looks short.

Judging by his name alone, the other debutant, Novelist, sounds like he'd be more at home in the Man Booker Prize betting. The Lewisham rapper's album Novelist Guy is a bracing slice of second generation grime. Current price of 10/1 is generous but it's an unlikely winner.

Nadine Shah and King Krule look like strong contenders

If a Mercury market opens on the Exchange, then Nadine Shah for Holiday Destination is worth backing there as I expect her odds to narrow between now and September 20. As it is, 8/1 is worth taking on Sportsbook.

Same goes for King Krule who, at 6/1, has been earning serious acclaim for The OOZ.

On the basis of an early look at the market, King Krule and Nadine Shah are strong contenders, and I expect the money to pour in for them.

It's now two albums two Mercury nominations now for Wolf Alice, as they make the list with Visions of a Life. But Mercury judges don't tend to go for rock when it comes to the final reckoning, so they're a swerve at 8/1..

Everything Everything's A Fever Dream 10/1 is a step on for an intelligent and ambitious band - they too have been on this list before - but I don't see them winning.

Then there's Everything is Recorded at 9/1, a curious nomination, as a stellar cast of musicians - including last year's Mercury winner Sampha - contribute to XL records boss Richard Russell's project.

Could this be the year that a jazz band wins?

Sons of Kemet are more than token jazz nominees. Last year, I saw them play a thunderously good gig in East London. There was a frenzied atmosphere, driven by the band's drumming trio and elevated by Shabaka Hutchins' saxophone, which felt typical of the way a new generation of musicians are energising UK jazz. Sons of Kemet's Seb Rochford has been one of the scene's principal players for several years and is something of a Mercury veteran, having been twice nominated with his other act, Polar Bear.

It's long been speculated that one day a jazz album will win the Mercury Music Prize. For my money, Sons of Kemet's Your Queen is a Reptile has the best chance yet, although I would have liked longer odds than 6/1. You could wait to see if they drift between now and September 20, or you could take the plunge now. Either way, something tells me this could be the year that the jazz album wins.


I'll be back on the eve of the winner's announcement to pick my final bet for 2018.

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