Mercury Prize 2022 Ranking The Albums by EJ Scanlan
Back in July, I wrote an article predicting the twelve albums that would be nominated for this year’s Mercury Prize. It’s fair to say that I did very well as I got seven out of twelve, five from my main list and two from my reserve, which is pretty good I’d say. But even though my predictions were pretty solid, I still found this year’s nominated albums to be just as surprising as ever, but which album will win the Mercury Prize 2022 with FREE NOW? Well today, that’s what we’re going to find out, as I’m going to rank all 12 albums from the least to the most likely to win the prize.
I will rank this list based on my critical opinion of each album and, of course, what I think the Mercury judges will ultimately make their decision on. Since the nominees were released five weeks ago, I’ve been listening to each of the nominated records on repeat. Aiming to understand why each album was shortlisted and what each one brings to the prize, all for this article. My twelfth pick will be what I believe is the least likely to win and my first is what I think has got what it takes to be Album #31 in the Mercury Prize Winners Hall of Fame. From indie music legends, rock headbangers, TikTok singalongs to a Mercury Prize first, here’s my opinion of what I think will win the 2022 Mercury Prize with FREE NOW.
#12 – “Harry’s House” by Harry Styles
With every list, there always has to be a last place, and “Harry’s House”, the third studio album by Harry Styles had to take the spot that no one wants. I dislike this album heavily, especially with how incredible its lead single, “As It Was” really is. However, I believe that the album itself does nothing to satisfy critics I believe, as unlike Styles’ previous two releases, there’s nothing special here. All of the songs are made primarily for TikTok trends, and so the album has no substance whatsoever.
So why was “Harry’s House” nominated for the Mercury Prize? That’s a question that confuses me too. Maybe it’s because of how commercially successful the album has been this year, with every single song leaving a massive impact on people from all over the world. Harry Styles is dominating the world music scene with this record, and I think this nomination stems from his influence on the global music scene. But it still confuses me as to why this is even on a list like the Mercury Prize, as I’m certain that “Harry’s House” is a frontrunner for Album of the Year at The BRIT Awards next February. The BRITs focus more on album sales whereas the Mercury’s focus on the actual quality of the record, why this is up for nomination is anyone’s guess. Due to how successful the album already is and the fact that Styles is already a global megastar, being nominated alongside artists waiting for that change is the sole reason as to why “Harry’s House” is at the bottom of my list.
#11 – “Skin” by Joy Crookes
It may surprise you to see “Skin”, the debut album by BRIT Award nominee Joy Crookes near the bottom of my list, but I have my reasons. Joy Crookes is an artist that I admire in every single way, her vocals are remarkable, her songs are brilliant and she’s an artist that deserves the world. Her debut album, “Skin” on paper had all of the materials to make it onto everyone’s Album of the Year list last year (which Little Simz and Self Esteem did, but more on them later…), and based on the singles “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” and the album’s title track “Skin”, this record could have made it, especially as both of those songs made it into my Songs of the Year 2021 list. However, somewhere along the way, the record fell flat and failed to utilise the potential Crookes had.
Unlike “Harry’s House”, I fully understand why “Skin” is nominated for the Mercury, Crookes’ delicate vocal style mixed with her melancholic songwriting makes this album great. It falls into the same reasons why I believe Celeste’s debut album “Not Your Muse” was nominated last year and came last in my ranking. Celeste had some great songs and some sensational vocals, and whereas the album was good, it failed to show her full potential and musicality, exactly the same as Joy Crookes and her debut. I wish Joy the very best, but I don’t think this has any chance of winning, to be honest.
#10 – “Reason To Smile” by Kojey Radical
Kojey Radical is one of my favourite rising rappers right now, and his long-awaited debut album “Reason To Smile” is proof of why that is. It showcases the very best of British rap music, and the record’s remarkable soundscapes and carefully curated tracklist make it even stronger.
There isn’t really a cause as to why “Reason To Smile” is this low, because it doesn’t deserve to be. But I know that the nine other records we’re speaking about on this list are much stronger in execution than this one is. That being said, I know that this record is just the beginning for Radical and that we’ll be seeing much more of him in the not-too-distant future.
#9 – “Seventeen Going Under” by Sam Fender
Sam Fender is an artist I’ve admired since he released “Millennial” back in 2017 with only a handful of followers, and I thought that his debut album “Hypersonic Missiles” was robbed of a Mercury nomination back in 2020. Personally, I’m very glad to see his sophomore record “Seventeen Going Under” nominated. The album itself is the record that got the 28-year-old to super-stardom, with Fender just announcing a stadium headline show at Newcastle’s St. James’ Park next year amplifying that statement. The title track, in particular, reached the heights that not a lot of indie artists reach nowadays. The record certainly changed Fender’s life, and this nomination is the icing on the cake for him.
However, in my critical opinion, despite absolutely loving many tracks from this record, “Seventeen Going Under” is a massive step-down in quality. Tracks such as the title track, “The Dying Light” “Aye” (which was my second favourite song of last year) and “Getting Started” are all tracks that show Fender in his best light. When looking at other songs such as “Spit Of You”, “The Leveller”, “Mantra” and “Paradigms”, whilst they are all great songs, but they all have that same ‘heard it a hundred times before’ feel to them. Which fails to showcase Fender’s sensational lyrics like “Hypersonic Missiles” does. Despite it being great, this record is a let-down and a nomination feels like it’s an apology for “Hypersonic Missiles” not making the list two years prior. This nomination is still very heavily deserved, even if everyone knows that it doesn’t have a shot at winning.
#8 – “For All Our Days That Tear The Heart” by Jessie Buckley and Bernard Butler
This year, there were three albums I hadn’t heard before when the Mercury list was unveiled. The debut album by actor Jessie Buckley and the fourth solo record by Suade guitarist, Bernard Butler, was the album that interested me most on first impressions. The album itself is incredibly captivating and treat to the ears to listen to the wonderful story told through the perfectly curated 12-track record. It’s an album with songwriting at its heart, accompanied by some sensational production.
The album is so excellent that I’ve actually moved the record up my list since listening once again while writing this portion of the article. But I don’t think it will win, and that reason is because there are seven other albums that I believe are much stronger. As well as Jessie Buckley’s vocals give off a Laura Marling vibe, an artist whose been nominated for the Mercury Prize on four separate occasions, but has never won (which I think is an absolute crime!). If Marling has been nominated four times previously but has never been strong enough to win, then I believe the same fate is unfortunately prophesied for “For All Our Days That Tear The Heart”, but the record is a personal favourite of mine this year.
#7 – “Supernova” by Nova Twins
Nova Twins are a band I completely overlooked when deciding which albums should be nominated this year, and to both Amy and Georgia – I’m very sorry – but this is by far the most deserved nomination this year, especially since I’ve followed this band since the end of 2018. The band’s debut album, “Who Are The Girls?” felt incredibly clumsy and messy, not showing the potential these girls have, but “Supernova” was everything their debut should have been, and so much more. This album is strong, formidable, bold and sounds fantastic. The soundscapes and band chemistry are brilliant, and what a way to bring rock back to the Mercury Prize with a vengeance.
This is the record which I believe most deserves to win the prize personally, and this is the first of the albums we’re talking about on this list that I think could potentially do it. Even though it’s a small chance, Nova Twins are at the perfect point in their career to win the prize, and what a story it would be if they did. The record is certainly strong enough, but could it do it? Well, it’s at number seven on my list so maybe not, but the Mercurys always like to go for the outsider and always love a big twist, so we’ll see…
#6 – “Tresor” by Gwenno
Welsh musician Gwenno’s third solo studio album is a Mercury Prize first. In the thirty years that the Mercurys have existed, “Tresor” is the first album nominated for the prize that is not in the English language, but is instead in the Celtic language of Cornish, with some Welsh thrown in there too. The record itself is remarkable, with some great production in there and has one of my favourite songs of the year in the form of “N.Y.C.A.W.”.
I do unfortunately think that this was only selected as “the leftfield album” and not there to win. If it did, then I would be incredibly happy, but at the same time very surprised. Whilst up there with my favourite albums of the year for sure and the perfect record to be nominated for the Mercury Prize, I don’t think it will go all the way.
#5 – “Wet Leg” by Wet Leg
The Prospect Music Award reigning champions have had a sensational year. With the release of their self-titled debut album winning the hearts of everyone back in April this year, this is already a hot favourite to win the prize. It’s not hard to see why with witty tracks such as the indie classic “Chaise Longue” and the provocative earworm “Wet Dream”. The record is one of the more famous albums nominated this year, but I don’t think this stops its chances by any means.
Their debut album is one of the strongest out there, and people will remember it for years to come, and I could certainly see this winning. It has the appeal of a winning record, it’s got remarkable lyrical content, it will have the historical legacy behind it and it has fan appeal. The only thing that I think stands in the Isle of Wight duo’s way is that the deep cuts from the record don’t always hold up as strong as the singles, which is always a must for a Mercury Prize winning album. Although, I do think Wet Leg have a very good shot.
#4 – “The Overload” by Yard Act
Leeds quartet Yard Act’s release “The Overload” is my favourite debut album of the year thus far, and it’s not hard to see why. The record is filled to the brim with political lyricism and is incredibly explicit in showcasing it, with the record filled to the brim with C-bombs and F-bombs, with basically every other insult and swear word in the Oxford English Dictionary. That being said, it is done with style and sophistication, which is the biggest oxymoron going.
As well as its lyrics, every track from “The Overload” has brilliant production, band chemistry and some brilliant instrumentation reeling through it. It’s honest and it’s unapologetic, and that’s what I think makes Yard Act one of the UK’s best indie-rock bands and “The Overload” the best debut album of the year. The Mercurys did well to select this record, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this won by any means, as I think it heavily deserves it.
#3 – “Forest Floor” by Fergus McCreadie
Fergus McCreadie is one of my favourite jazz musicians of the moment, and his sophomore record, “Forest Floor” showcases exactly why that is. The album, like a lot of traditional jazz albums do; takes its listener on a journey beyond their imagination, and the journey I was taken on with this record personally was one I wanted to go on again and again.
When it comes to the Mercury Prize, I’m always very strict when it comes to jazz, as there’s always one jazz pick on the list, and then there’s also the fact that jazz is one of my favourite musical genres (I have the films of Damien Chazelle and musicians Justin Hurwitz and Shabaka Hutchings to thank for that!). What I always judge jazz albums of this callibre on is whether it is the best pick for that year, does it tops other jazz albums nominated previously and is the album strong enough to win the prize singlehandedly? In McCreadie’s case, the answer to all three of these questions is… Yes! “Forest Floor” is the best jazz record I’ve heard this year by far, and is on par with my favourite jazz album of all time, “Your Queen Is A Reptile” by Sons of Kemet, which was nominated (and predicted to win) back in 2018. The album’s instrumentation, sound and orchestration are so strong that this can certainly win the prize. If it did, it would become the first jazz album to win the Mercury, and “Forest Floor” deserves to take that place in musical history in my opinon.
#2 – “Prioritise Pleasure” by Self Esteem
For those who may remember, I reviewed Self Esteem’s sophomore album, “Prioritise Pleasure” back in October last year, and I didn’t give it a fully favourable review. Over the last year, however, especially in the last five weeks, I have had a complete u-turn on the record. My initial response to the album was so so wrong, and I apologise to Rebecca Taylor profusely for that. The album is sensational throughout, exploring feminism in a thought-provoking way, but even without that, the production, vocals and lyricism feel empowering and emotional, with the big highlight being the phenomenal “I Do This All The Time”.
Self Esteem is the first of two major contenders to win the prize, and if “Prioritise Pleasure” did it, it would be the first pop album to win the Mercury. I couldn’t think of another record of that genre that deserves it more. The judges will be looking primarily for vocals, songwriting, production, political subtext and how the record functions as an album, and this, as well as my number one pick, has all of this in spadeloads. I think if the judges will be looking primarily at the politics and issues each album explores, the songwriting and the vocal talent, then “Prioritise Pleasure” will win for sure.
#1 – “Sometimes I Might Be Introvert” by Little Simz
As I explained in my prediction article, everyone I spoke to before the official announcement of this year’s Mercury Prize nominated albums said that Little Simz’ fourth record titled “Sometimes I Might Be Introvert” would not only be nominated for the prize, but would win the whole damn thing. With just days before the ceremony, I couldn’t agree more with each and every one of them. Simz has made her career best album with “Sometimes I Might Be Introvert”. It celebrates the whole of rap music, hip-hop and multiple other genres, as well as its sublime political lyricism throughout the album. It’s a record that I’d go as far to say is my favourite album of the rap genre, and I want Little Simz to take this more than anything in the world. Which I think she very much could.
As the second major contender, “Sometimes I Might Be Introvert” is in my opinion, the only record on this year’s list that actually feels like an album. With each track transitioning with each other so effortlessly while still feeling like their own individual songs. It’s brilliant in that aspect, and as well as that, this is the only album on the list that has official interludes, which link the record together. Not only does this record contain an interlude, it has a total of FIVE. Interludes are imperative to making an album a journey, not just a collection of songs, and for a prize that celebrates the album of the year, for its thirtieth anniversary, surely the album that wins the Mercury Prize this year should feel like an album, and this is it.
So, that’s my list! Which record do you think will win the Mercury Prize 2022? Let me know on Instagram – @ejscanlan. I will also be attending the Mercury Prize and I can’t wait to report live once again, so expect a full article the day after the ceremony which you can catch on TV…
The Mercury Prize 2022 with FREE NOW will be broadcast on Thursday 8th September at 21:00 on BBC Four.