LONDON (Reuters) - Scottish singer Emeli Sande is favorite to win the coveted British album of the year honor later on Wednesday when the BRIT Awards are handed out in London.
Sande, whose profile received a major boost when she took part in the opening and closing ceremonies at the London Olympics last year, has been nominated for three prizes on British pop's biggest night.
She was also shortlisted for best British female, which Sande is expected by bookmakers to win, and best British single for "Next to Me". Sande features on another contender for the single prize, Labrinth's "Beneath Your Beautiful".
Arguably the most important category is British album, where Sande's "Our Version of Events" is up against other acts who each picked up three nominations - Mumford & Sons for "Babel" and Alt-J for "An Awesome Wave".
Sande's was Britain's best-selling album in 2012, but the ongoing slump in CD sales last year is likely to overshadow what should be a celebration of the vibrant state of the country's pop music scene.
According to official figures, overall British album sales fell 11.2 percent to 100.5 million in 2012, despite a rise of nearly 15 percent in digital album sales.
While digital downloads account for an increasing share of record labels' revenues, the bulk still comes from physical CDs, and the steady decline blamed on online piracy and a shift towards buying singles online is a major concern.
"DULL AND CONSERVATIVE"?
Some critics are also worried about the state of British music more generally, arguing that the quality of this year's international artist nominees, including Lana Del Rey and Frank Ocean, showed how U.S. singers were in the ascendancy.
"If this year's Brits promises to be underwhelming, the British music business has no one to blame but itself," wrote Neil McCormick of the Daily Telegraph, describing many nominees this year as "a little dull and conservative."
Adele looks set to add to her groaning trophy cabinet with the best single award for James Bond theme "Skyfall", while Del Rey and Ocean are bookmaker Ladbrokes' favorites for best international female and male respectively.
"There's a nailed on favorite in every category and it's hard to see any last minute upsets at this stage," said Ladbrokes spokeswoman Jessica Bridge.
It may be that the big surprises this year at the BRITs, which have a reputation of rewarding commercial success over musical originality, came at the nominations stage.
Last month eyebrows were raised when Amy Winehouse was nominated in the British female solo category some 18 months after her death for a chart-topping album of unreleased songs and demos called "Lioness: Hidden Treasures".
And veteran rockers the Rolling Stones were shortlisted for best live act after they returned to the stage for a short, sellout tour of London and the United States at the end of 2012 to mark 50 years in the business.
The last time the group was nominated for a BRIT was in 1996, and the Rolling Stones are the only act to be nominated both at this year's ceremony at the O2 Arena and at the first BRIT Awards staged in 1977.
Performing at the awards ceremony will be Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, Muse, Robbie Williams, Sande, Mumford & Sons, Ben Howard and One Direction.
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)