Adele’s shadow looms over 55th Grammy Awards

Unlike last year, when Adele’s gorgeous juggernaut “21” dominated music’s biggest awards show, this year’s Grammys are more up for grabs.

The critics have been raving about Frank Ocean’s “futuristic R&B” (whatever that means), kids have been pumping their fists to fun.’s anthemic pop and rockers have been clinging to The Black Keys as if they were the new White Stripes. But none of the groups have had the generation-hopping impact of the British singer’s sweeping ballads.

In some categories, there are clear winners: fun.’s epic “We Are Young” is almost certain to take Best Song and The Black Key’s “Lonely Boy” (which feels like it was released forever ago – Dec. 6, 2011, to be exact) will probably snag Best Rock Song, but in other competitions, the results aren’t so certain.

Will Springsteen’s spirited 17th album “Wrecking Ball,” which Rolling Stone named Best Album of the Year and is his best album – by far – since “The Rising,” upset the competition for Best Rock Album? Do the Mumford and Sons-inspired Lumineers or southern blues underdogs Alabama Shakes have a chance of stealing Best New Artist?

Regardless, I’m just happy that great musicians like Jack White, Fiona Apple and Tom Waits are nominated for anything, particularly in Apple’s case. The reclusive singer-songwriter, who’s nominated for Best Alternative Music, released the best album of her career last year, “The Idler Wheel…” The album features nothing fancy; it’s just Apple doing what she does best, singing about heartbreak, with minimal production. But, God, what a voice, and she has such a great ear for melody along with creative and playful lyrics.

White and Waits may not have released their best music in 2012, but I love both artists so much that I’m still glad they’re included. White’s “Blunderbuss” was mostly bereft of hooks and Wait’s “Bad as Me” was paint-by-numbers material for the great performer. Both musicians released far superior material in the early 2000s. I was actually quite shocked to see “Blunderbuss” nominated for album of the year and I don’t expect either musician to win anything. White will most likely lose out to The Black Keys or Springsteen for Best Rock Album and hopefully, Apple will beat out Waits for Best Alternative Music. Gotye, may take that one, however, despite the fact that his great, Peter Gabriel-esque “Somebody That I Used to Know” was the only good song on “Making Mirrors.”

I was surprised to see Mumford and Sons’ “Babel” nominated for so much. I was a huge fan of their refreshing first record “Sigh No More,” but everything I’ve heard from the follow-up feels like reheated leftovers. Maybe the committee felt guilty about not granting any awards to their stunning debut.

For Best Pop Vocal album, let’s hope that the only singer’s singer on the list, Florence Welch of Florence & the Machine, beats out Kelly Clarkson, Maroon 5, Pink and fun. For the life of me, I don’t know why this category is filled mostly with early 2000s pop leftovers whose vocals don’t impress much. Even Rihanna, who’s not known for her voice, turned in a better performance in “Diamonds” (a song I love, by the way).

fun. definitely deserves to be nominated because of its big hits “We Are Young” and “Some Nights.” The group has made ambitious pop rock, something that has been sorely lacking from mainstream radio for a long time. But I am not convinced that the group is great yet.

To me, much of the album “Some Nights,” with its ballooning, sing-a-long choruses, feels like Arcade Fire-wannabe stuff.

It’s telling that even though she didn’t release an album this year, Adele’s presence will still be felt with her nomination for Best Pop Solo Performance. Her stirring live performance of “Set Fire To the Rain” should win over Clarkson, Carly Rae Jepsen, Katy Perry and Rihanna.

The show itself is almost always entertaining and this one, featuring LL Cool J as host for the second time and with performances by Taylor Swift, Jack White, Rihanna, Carrie Underwood, the Black Keys, Sting and Bruno Mars, shouldn’t be any different.

The 55th Annual Grammy Awards will be broadcast at 8 p.m. Sunday on CBS.