Best Mercury Prize winners: Arctic Monkeys, the XX and more

The Mercury Prize is designated to the UK’s best album of the year, according to a panel of music industry heads in the UK and Ireland. And as with things like this, depending who you ask, they┬ánever get it right.

Wednesday, the shortlist for the 2013 Mercury Prize will be announced in a ceremony that will have artists tugging at their collar for two different reasons. While the prize can give huge exposure to a band and essentially launch their careers, there’s some who say it’s cursed, an albatross rather than a feather in the cap. Look no further than past winners like Roni Size, Talvin Singh and Gomez. You’ve never heard of them? Case in point.

Still, the prize is a tremendous honor for the non-superstitious. Alt-J took home the prize last year, and so far, it’s done them nothing but good. This year, house/techno DJ duo Disclosure are favorites to bring the award down, but the panel has surprised in the past.

Come along with us as we take a look at 10 great albums that nabbed a Mercury Prize over the award’s contentious 22-year history.


1992: Primal Scream — Screamadelica

Scottish alt-rockers Primal Scream had a modest fan base until their third album, “Screamadelica,” hit shelves in 1992. With that, of the sudden, they exploded. “Screamadelica” shouldered off the band’s once strictly indie sound for a more inclusive one that embraced house, psychedelia and Rolling Stones-style classic rock (e.g. “Movin’ On Up” and “Come Together”). The album won near every top spot it was eligible for in the UK that year — including a freshly minted award called The Mercury Prize.

“Movin’ On Up”

1994: M People — “Elegant Slumming”

Looking at the first two years that preceded M People‘s Mercury Prize, it would be easy to assume the award was reserved for pasty indie rock groups. M People’s fist-pumping house album “Elegant Slumming” turned that all on its head, and paved the way for future winners like Roni Size and Talvin Singh.

M People will tour this October to mark the 20th anniversary of the album, their first tour in nearly 10 years.

“One Night In Heaven”

1995: Portishead — “Dummy”

Portishead‘s entrancing debut “Dummy” netted the Bristol-based group a silly amount of plaudits. To be sure, it was a new breed of music — one initially called “The Brisol Sound,” now referred to with the gauche, unmistakably ’90s handle “trip-hop.” Neither of those labels do “Dummy,” justice, though, an album that’s almost better described visually than with clunky music descriptors like “jazzy” or “groovy.” A Mercury Prize well deserved.

“Sour Times”

1999: Talvin Singh — “OK”

“The world is sound,” we’re told in the beginning of Talvin Singh‘s sophomore LP, “OK.” Over the next hour of music, he creates a beautiful one. The Mercury Award usually goes to some variety of guitar pop music, rendering Singh’s tabla/electronic concoction a welcome breath of fresh air in the winner’s circle. Singh’s often cited as evidence of the Mercury Prize curse, however, as his follow-up albums garnered much chillier receptions, perhaps for painting less accommodating worlds.


2001: PJ Harvey — “Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea”

The fifth time proved to be the charm for alt-rock bad-ass Polly Jean Harvey, who’s pretty fifth album, “Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea,” netted her a Mercury Prize in 2001. She went up against Damon Alburn’s Gorillaz that year — that is, before he pulled their name from contention. For PJ, the eighth time proved pretty swell, too: With 2011’s “Let England Shake,” Harvey became the first artist to win two Mercury Prizes.

“This Is Love”

More of Reverb’s list of best Mercury Prize winners >>