Arctic Monkeys and Thom Yorke have been joined by a surprise comeback from the reclusive Scritti Politti - last seen in the charts some 20 years ago - in the nominations for this year's Nationwide Mercury Prize.

Editors, Guillemots, Muse and grime artist Sway are also among the12 names on the list drawn from a shortlist of more than 200 entries, designed to showcase the year's best new British and Irish music, regardless of genre.

The judges hailed 2006 as "a rich year for musical excellence and creativity", and said this year's list draws attention to the musical importance of cities outside London.

Chair of the judges Simon Frith said: "Above all, this year's shortlist for the Nationwide Mercury Prize is about the art of the songwriter - if you want to know what life is like in Britain today, listen to the country's musicians."

But the choice of White Bread, Black Beer by Scritti Politti is a surprise. Singer-songwriter - and these days sole permanent member - Green Gartside founded the band in the 70s, as a cerebral and wilfully chaotic dub-punk collective. After embracing black-influenced pop, and shedding all the original members bar Gartside, the band went on to enjoy global success in the early 1980s with singles like Wood BEEZ and Absolute.

White Bread, Black Beer is his first album for seven years, and only his second in two decades after Gartside retreated from the public eye to a secluded cottage in his native Wales. The judges called it "an album of sublime and uplifting pop that showcases one of Britain's unique musical voices".

Gartside is now based in east London, but other nominations include a variety of more obviously regional voices. Arctic Monkeys and Richard Hawley both glory in their Sheffield roots, Editors and Guillemots are based in Birmingham, while Isobel Campbell records in her native Glasgow.

Summing up what must be the favourite to win the prize, judges described the Arctic Monkeys' album as: "Great songs astonishingly performed. Essential."

Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not became the fastest-selling debut in chart history, shifting more than 360,000 copies in its first week and spawning the hits I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor and When The Sun Goes Down.

The first solo album from Thom Yorke, singer with the twice previously nominated Radiohead, also receives a nod for providing "a compelling new setting" his "unique voice and lyrical vision".

Alongside such commercial hits, the prize is known for spotlighting more obscure records. This year, the release picked out from the penumbra of British jazz is Colchester-born Zoe Rahman's Melting Pot. Released on her own label, the CD is praised for "drawing the listener into her own absorbing world".

The winner of the prize - won last year by Antony and the Johnsons - will be announced on September 5.

The full shortlist

Guillemots - Through the Window Pane
Richard Hawley - Coles Corner
Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
Hot Chip - The Warning
Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan - Ballad of the Broken Seas
Editors - The Back Room
Thom Yorke - The Eraser
Zoe Rahman - Melting Pot
Muse - Black Holes and Revelations
Scritti Politti - White Bread, Black Beer
Sway - This Is My Demo
Lou Rhodes - Beloved One

Staff and agencies

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