Late rock legend David Bowie's final album is hotly-tipped to claim the prestigious Mercury Prize on Thursday, when it goes up against fellow critics' favourites including Radiohead and Anohni.
Bowie is in the running for "Blackstar," an album infused with jazz and a dark lyricism that foreshadowed his death in January just two days after the album's release, following an undisclosed cancer battle. Bowie, who never won the prestigious British music prize in his lifetime, would be the first artist to win it posthumously.
Actor Michael C. Hall, star of TV series "Dexter" and of Bowie-created stage show "Lazarus", performed a haunting tribute to the pioneering musical icon at the London ceremony combined with videos of Bowie. "His search was never sated," awards presenter Shaun Keaveny, a BBC music broadcaster, said of Bowie. "We are left with this magnificent album," he said.
The Mercury Prize was established in 1992 to recognise the top album by a British or Irish artist and has raised the profile of bands such as Elbow as well as individual artists including James Blake and Badly Drawn Boy.
Radiohead, who hold the Mercury record for most nominations but have never won the prize, were shortlisted for "A Moon Shaped Pool," in which the experimental rockers inch back to their guitar-rock origins.
Anohni was nominated for "Hopelessness," a searing political indictment of US foreign policy and the world's environmental failures that shifts sharply from the artist's earlier work with its synthpop sound.
She performed the track "Drone Bomb Me" in full body paint with blood-like red strokes coming from her head, signing the lyrics: "Blow my head off/ Explode my crystal guts/ Lay my purple on the grass".
Anohni, born in Britain but raised in the United States, saw her career rise after her band Antony and the Johnsons won the Mercury Prize in 2005 for the bleak and deeply personal "I Am a Bird Now."
PJ Harvey snub
Other nominees this year include pop singer Bat for Lashes with "The Bride," a concept album about a woman's fiance dying on the way to the wedding, and the latest works by punk revivalists Savages and danceable alternative rockers The 1975.
Also in the running for the Mercury Prize are albums by soul singers Laura Mvula and Michael Kiwanuka and by two artists from Britain's grime music scene, Kano and Skepta.
Lesser-known artists whose albums were nominated are The Comet Is Coming, which incorporates jazz and electronica, and trippy R&B singer Jamie Woon.
"This is music to make sense of our unsettling times -- heartfelt, angry, thoughtful and thrilling," the Mercury jury said in a statement announcing the 12 shortlisted albums.
In one notable snub, singer-songwriter PJ Harvey was not nominated for "The Hope Six Demolition Project," which merged her alternative rock style with reflections on displacement from Afghanistan to inner-city Washington, DC.
Her last album, "Let England Shake," won in 2011, making her the only artist to have taken home the Mercury Prize twice.
In a shift with the past, the Mercury Prize is allowing fans to vote for the finalists, although a jury including Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker and Wolf Alice frontwoman Ellie Rowsell will select the ultimate winner.
The award was established as an alternative to the more commercial Brit awards and is credited with bringing attention to lesser-known acts.
Scottish rockers Primal Scream were the first winners, with subsequent victors including Portishead, Arctic Monkeys, Dizzee Rascal, Suede and Franz Ferdinand.
Pulp's Cocker, spoken word poet Kate Tempest and Shahid Khan, also known as Naughty Boy, were among the jury and actor Benedict Cumberbatch was in the audience.
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