Damon Albarn is the biggest name on this year's Mercury Music Prize shortlist but I wouldn't back him at 8.615/2 to triumph.
Albarn has been here before, with both Blur and Gorillaz, for stronger works than Everyday Robots, his uneven first solo album. The other well-established nominee is Bombay Bicycle Club 12.011/1 who get the nod for their fourth album, So Long, See You Tomorrow, a title which will encapsulate my feelings if they prevail.
The real story concerns the seven debuts on the list. After last year's indie-schmindie picks, the judges have selected a diverse group, with hip hop, jazz and heavy rock all represented. It's full of artists who mix genres and I've a feeling that's where the winner will come from. FKA Twigs 4.03/1, Jungle 10.09/1 and Kate Tempest 5.04/1 all make exciting bets, although do wait for longer odds before backing them. Seven of the last ten Mercury winners were debuts.
In all the years that I've written about this prize, James Blake's 2013 win was the most surprising. It wasn't his odds, although he did trade at over 20.019/1 on the day, but his blandness as both artist and bet made his victory as unlikely as it was disappointing.
Other mediocrities have won, including Alt-J in 2012 and Klaxons in 2007, but Blake sprang from mid-market, like Elbow in 2008 except without generating any of the goodwill.
Last year was the second time Blake had been nominated, so does Anna Calvi 12.5 or Polar Bear 16.015/1, who both make the list for the second time, have a chance?
Calvi's One Breath is a messy second album which left me in the unpleasant situation of trying hard to like something by an artist whose previous work I'd enjoyed. Polar Bear, meanwhile, continue to make interesting music and In Each and Every One is a minimalist, surprisingly unjazzy affair which might be their best yet. It would, however, be a big surprise to see them carry off the prize.
Are Royal Blood 6.05/1 the English Queens of the Stone Age or this year's The Darkness? Is heavy s**t back and, if so, will this duo win? It is, after all, the year when Metallica headlined Glastonbury, but I'd argue that, rather than songs, RB have riffs, which is why their eponymous debut feels underdone.
Several decibels quieter but similarly patchy, Nick Mulvey's First Mind 12.5 has exquisite moments but I doubt it's strong enough to win.
Among the "what will happen if Scotland chooses independence" articles I've read ("No more whisky!"), none have explained whether or not Edinburgh rap trio Young Fathers 11.521/2 will still be eligible to win this prize. The chap behind East India Youth 7.87/1 sounds like a less-predictable James Blake but I can't see Total Strife Forever winning. One of these days, the token leftfield nominee will triumph. It might as well be GoGo Penguin for v2.0 16.015/1 in 2014 as anyone else in any other year, but you'd still be daft to back them.
Last year was the first time in four years that the prize wasn't won by the favourite - the xx (2010), PJ Harvey (2011) and Alt-J (2012), all lead the market from early on. This year's list is fresh, eclectic and there's no standout runner in the field, so there should be plenty of fluctuations in the betting between now and October 29.
Concentrate on debut albums in the middle of the market and keep stakes small. It's a bit of a lottery but that's what you want from the Mercury Music Prize.
Back FKA Twiggs
Back Kate Tempest