This really seems like a make or break year for the Choice Music Prize. Conceived as a genuine alternative to the bloated back-slapping orgy of the industry-approved Meteors, the Choice -- which takes place in Vicar St this Wednesday -- has for the past two years stunned observers by making some pretty eccentric decisions regarding the Irish album of the year.
In its first year, the 2006 winner Julie Feeney seemed to represent the spirit of the award, emerging from out of nowhere with her debut album 13 Songs, despite not having a record label, a publisher or even a manager.
A worldwide deal with Sony duly followed; it looked like Jim Carroll and Dave Reid's pet project was already bearing fruit.
The following year I was on the jury that awarded the prize to the Divine Comedy's Victory For The Comic Muse. Nobody seemed more surprised than Neil Hannon himself, who was almost apologetic in his victory speech. I was not alone in thinking that the prize ought to have gone to Fionn Regan for his debut The End Of History.
Like Feeney, the Bray mop-top was an emerging artist who had made a big impression at little expense -- and would have no doubt benefited from the increased exposure.
Alternatively, it could have gone to electro-geek Si Schroeder's innovative Coping Mechanisms. Either way, it seemed like a lost opportunity.
Then last year, as if over-compensating for the Divine Comedy victory, the jokers in the pack Super Extra Bonus Party took home the €10,000 cheque, to a general air of bemusement and bewilderment. Many asked: how, exactly, was Cathy Davey overlooked?
This year, there is a chance to make amends. The shortlist is promising -- but not as strong as it could have been. My own end-of-year round-up of the Irish albums of 2008 included David Turpin, Saville, Pony Club and Autamata -- all of whom missed the Choice cut. Nor was there any place on the shortlist for Katie Kim or Imelda May. And whither Snow Patrol?
But then maybe this goes to show what a good year 2008 was for Irish music.
I think David Holmes would be a worthy winner for his labour of love The Holy Pictures, a soulful homage to his home city of Belfast and to his late parents. That said, Homer's already a Hollywood insider, so does he really need it?
Personally, I would give it to Halfset for their sumptuous Another Way Of Being There, which married warm, mellow electronica with pristine technicolour production to create something really timeless and beautiful. On top of that, Halfset's Stephen Shannon also had a big hand in David Turpin's The Sweet Used-To-Be.
Jape's Ritual is another album that would do the award justice should it win -- Dubliner Richie Egan is a popular figure in the Irish music scene. His wide-eyed tribute to Phil Lynott was a real aw-shucks moment for Irish pop last year.
I suspect that Lisa Hannigan, though, has as good a chance of winning the prize as anyone for her kooky debut solo album Sea Sew, which braided Joni Mitchell with Natalie Merchant. But will her time served duetting with Damien Rice count against her?
Belfast duo Oppenheimer produced a Krautrockin' sugar-rush with their Take The Whole Mid-Range and Boost It, a record that regretfully slipped under my radar on its release last summer.
I'm sure it's my loss but I don't really get the Irish hip-hop duo Messiah J & The Expert, but at least their album From the Word Go -- the second time that they've been nominated for the Choice Prize -- adds to the diversity of the shortlist.
RSAG aka Rarely Seen Above Ground aka Jeremy Hickey may be a long shot but the Kilkenny man's loose-limbed Organic Sampler album has its fervent admirers among the bloggers. Maybe this could be the year of the singing drummer?
The cartoon garage antics of Fight Like Apes' The Mystery of the Golden Medallion also has its media cheerleaders -- the reasons for which escape me.
As for Mick Flannery, his album White Lies, which builds a bridge between Tom Waits and Tim Buckley, is a cut above your standard singer/songwriter fare. But the best of '08?
Which brings us finally to The Script. I don't agree with the view that The Script have no place on the shortlist -- the Dubliners recorded their debut themselves in the outhouse of Mark Sheehan's mother's house in The Liberties.
So it topped the charts in the UK? Good for them. It's slick, catchy, well-polished pop. But of all the acts on the shortlist, they need the exposure the least.
Who should win? Holmes or Halfset. Who will win? Hannigan.
The Choice Prize takes place in Vicar St on Wednesday night. The ceremony will be broadcast live on Paul McLoone's show on Today FM. email@example.com