Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lousy Album Covers by Artists Who Should Know Better

Just for fun, let's continue on the same topic as my last post. This may become a recurring feature, because let's face it, there's a lot of questionable album art out there.

It's a shame, but today album art is pretty unappreciated. The glorious 12x12" record sleeves from my dad's collection have been reduced to less than 5" square in my CD rack. For today's kids, it now exists as a 300x300 pixel JPG that pops up on their iPod (or, more likely, doesn't appear at all). Imagine trying to pick out all the faces on Sgt. Pepper's on something like that.

Still, if you're an artist who cares about the quality of the product you're putting out, the cover art should really be regarded as a part of that. If nothing else, it reflects the image of the music and the artist whether you like it or not.

This post is not about unknowns or no-name bands who couldn't afford a good designer or have questionable taste to begin with. These are established artists who really ought to give a little thought to how they are coming across. I love all these guys but just can't understand how they let stuff that looked like this out on the market.

Bruce Springsteen- Plugged (1997)

First of all, I don't agree with his decision to "plug in" on the unplugged show. Bruce has enough great songs that he should have been able to pull this one off. Then, he loads it almost entirely with songs from his two contemporary albums, Human Touch and Lucky Town, the least memorable work from his "adult contemporary" period.

Now onto the artwork. To me, this looks like the work of a student in Graphic Design 101, who just learned Photoshop and Illustrator and is using every trick in his arsenal to really "wow" you. The stretched-out text, the clipping path around the Bruce photo so we get not one but two Bruces on top of each other, one apparently clapping politely at the other. The big red X over the "Un" is the perfect visual pun to complete the picture.

I definitely produced work like this my freshman year of college, and nobody ever gave me a job because of it. Nor should they.

Bob Dylan- Saved (1980)

The born-again message on all the songs is already questionable, but this cover is just embarrassing. It looks like it came from one of those Seasonal Missalettes at church, or worse, like he hired one of his fellow parishioners to do it.

It just doesn't belong on the cover of an album by one of the coolest, most revered songwriters ever.

Bob Dylan- Knocked Out Loaded (1986)

Not to pick on ol' Bob, but this one is just awful. I would seriously hate to see this thing blown up on a full-size record sleeve.

The album title is pretty cool, though.

The Rolling Stones- Dirty Work (1986)

I realize that bright, neon colors were perceived as cool in 1986, but this was folly. The music on this album is generally considered to be the band's worst, and to me, the cover says, "yeah, this is us now." There is absolutely no attempt to be any kind of cool.

As an extra morsel of excruciating unpleasantness, take a look at the way Keith's bent knee is positioned in relation to Mick's wide-open crotch, like a big black arrow on the otherwise day-glo canvas. I guarantee you this was no accident.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lousy Beatles Covers

It's funny to think, as protective as the Beatles are with the presentation of their catalog, that there was a time the record label would abuse their image as much as any cut-rate, has-been artist. This is one of the first albums EMI released after gaining control of the Beatles' music:

Think Sgt. Pepper, Abbey Road... and eventually, this.

Ringo supposedly had this to say: "It made us look cheap and we never were cheap. All that Coca-Cola and cars with big fins was the Fifties!" It's a pretty lousy illustration... but not as bad as what was to come:

Can you believe this? It's got to be one of the lamest album covers of all time. Click on it to zoom in and take a look at Ringo. How many arms does he have?

The Beatles have a much tighter grip on the stuff that comes out with their names on it now. And for the most part, it's pretty high quality (the cover to "1" is iconic in its own right at this point). So hopefully, we can consider the cartoon painting era of Beatles album covers over.

Still don't quite get what happened with this one, though: