Laura Mvula's debut albumSing To The Moon, one of the contenders for the BBC Sound of 2013 title, could claim a far more lucrative and career-defining prize at London's Roundhouse tonight.
Laura Mvula Is The Favourite For the Barclaycard Mercury Music Prize
For weeks, Disclosure's Settle has been the bookmakers' favorite to win the Barclaycard sponsored prize and £20,000 prize money, though on Wednesday Mvula's impressive record - a fusion of jazz, pop and even orchestral elements- was cut to just 4/6 with most bookies. Paddy Power are still holding strong with even money odds, but there's been an undeniable shift in who the bookmakers believe will win the Mercury Music Prize, presented by Lauren Laverne tonight.
In times past, the Mercury prize was a star-maker, bestowed on young acts on the edge of the mainstream music business. It essentially made the careers of Badly Drawn Boy, Dizzee Rascal, Franz Ferdinand and Klaxons, while lesser known acts including Gomez, Speech DeBelle and Ms. Dynamite were recognised for albums that may have otherwise flown under the radar.
The 2013 shortlist of 12 albums has come under heavy fire for being too commercial and favouring established acts like David Bowie and former winners Arctic Monkeys. The shadowy identity of the judging panel has also been attacked for its continuing irrelevance - what if, for example, those choosing the best British album of the year turned out to be Gary Barlow, Jessie J, some bloke from Q magazine and Jo Whiley?
"Knowing who's picked these albums at the time of their announcement - or, better, beforehand - would help critics like myself form a more complete picture of how certain albums have made the cut," said Mike Diver of Clash magazine.
"It's faceless and the criteria are unclear. If it's just about the likes and dislikes of the judges, why not unveil said judges, as they do for the Booker prize?" said Mojo magazine.
A former Mercury judge told the Observer on Sunday that although she still believes the prize was a force for good, she wished it was more transparent, "I was quite open when I did it and I don't see a problem with that," she said.
Mike Smith - president of music at EMI who has multiple acts vying for the prize tonight - argued, "The judges should be anonymous. If they were not, I am sure they would be lobbied quite hard. The idea, I think, is that the major labels would have an advantage over the independents, although I am not sure that is true. Certainly, people would try to influence the decision."
Arctic Monkeys Have Been Backed In From 16/1 to 7/1 For The Mercury
Surely the compromise would be to announce the judges on the evening of the prize-giving, or even after the announcement, to avoid any lobbying whilst giving the general public and the acts themselves an idea of how the decision was made.
Last year, Music Week revealed what was claimed to be the list of judges who awarded Alt-J the prize of An Awesome Wave. It included artist Anna Calvi, the Evening Standard's David Smyth, The Independent's David Wilkinson, Head of Radio 1 George Ergatoudis, Head of Absolute Radio James Curran, XFM presenter Jeff Smith, the assistant editor of Jazzwise Mike Flynn and freelance critic Jude Rogers.
Should the class of 2013 choose Mvula's Sing to the Moon, the Birmingham singer-songwriter would almost certainly enjoy continued success for the next couple of years at least. A clearly talented musician whose record impressed critics, Mvula is nonetheless a safe choice as the winner of the Mercury Music Prize and Sing to the Moon will be the gift that lazy home-bound students grab from the Tesco shelf before popping it in their mother and father's Christmas stockings.
Mvula as the winner of the Mercury Prize isn't going to upset anyone, but it's the name that will lead serious music critics to continue questioning the relevance of a prize once given to Portishead's seminal album Dummy ahead of Oasis's Definitely Maybe or Antony and the Johnsons' I Am a Bird Now in favour of Coldplay's commercial powerhouse X&Y.
Discounting David Bowie's The Next Day as a silly nominee, Jon Hopkins' Immunity as too left-field, Villagers' Awayland for its middle-of-the-road indie folk, Rudimental's Home and Jake Bugg's debut album, we're left with a couple of interesting alternatives to Mvula in Laura Marling's Once I Was an Eagle, Savages' Silence Yourself, Foals' Holy Fire, James Blake's Overgrown and the Arctic Monkeys' AM - widely considered the band's best work to date.
For us? Stick your money on the boys from Sheffield.
Watch Discloure's 'When A Fire Starts To Burn' (live from Central Park):
The full list of nominees for the Barclaycard Mercury Music Prize is as followed: Arctic Monkeys (AM), David Bowie (The Next Day) Disclosure (Settle), Foals (Holy Fire), Jake Bugg (Jake Bugg), James Blake (Overgrown), Jon Hopkins (Immunity) Laura Marling (Once I Was An Eagle), Laura Mvula (Sing to the Moon), Rudimental (Home) Savages (Silence Yourself), Villagers (Awayland).