Rock music rolls out a Booker with boogie

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The Independent Online
THERE are more than 200 literature prizes in this country and you can't boogie to any of them. But help is at hand. The pop music industry yesterday launched rock'n'roll's Booker Prize. The pounds 20,000 Mercury Music Prize, named after its telecommunications sponsor and not, on this occasion, the late Freddie, will be awarded to the Album Of The Year in September at a black-tie dinner at the Savoy Hotel.

But yesterday, announcing the shortlist of 10 albums, Simon Frith, a rock academic who lectures on the medium at Strathclyde University, was already perfecting a vocabulary to rival any Hampstead literary circle.

'Jah Wobble's Invaders Of The Heart album Rising Above Bedlam is idiosyncratic and personal, an exciting achievement by an artist fixing his sights on world music' . . . U2's Achtung Baby 'an extraordinary re-invention of the U2 sound'.

And straight from the pages of the Times Literary Supplement, a radical assessment of Primal Scream's Screamadelica, placing it firmly in the great tradition. It is, he said, 'sleazy, decadent and compulsive, a bold pan across several genres from Soul through the Rolling Stones to House.'

The Mercury prize has the advantage over the Booker in that the record companies are able to release a sampler album, boosting sales well before September. Bookmakers are already offering odds on the likely winner, ranging from Simply Red's Stars at 6-4 favourite to Bheki Mseleku's Celebration at 20-1.

But those involved don't yet know all the etiquette of the great prizes. One record company boss muttered afterwards: 'I don't understand. Why don't the judges all bet on the 20-1 album then make sure it wins?'