As the quality of album cover art goes downhill faster than a grease-covered boulder, Chris Parkin takes a look at some of the worst ever offenders...
As the year draws to a close and the music industry stops releasing records that aren’t just last-minute Christmas presents, all minds turn to Best of the Year lists. Best album, best track, best gig, best swearing (Azealia Banks’ scurrilous single 212 wins hands down), best excuse for being rubbish live (Bono’s “wrong shoes”), that sort of thing.
Another of these lists sparking debate is the best/worst album sleeve. There’s an argument that says bands and labels put as much effort into artwork as they do tidying the cutlery draw now that albums are rarely bought off the shelf. The good ones in 2011 – Peaking Lights’ 936, Mountains’ Air Museum – came from the aesthetes among musicians who still see their albums in terms of big shop displays of gatefold vinyl LPs luring in buyers.
But too many covers – see Fact Magazine’s Worst Album Sleeves of 2011 list – suggest the idea of classic album artwork is expiring quicker than a loaf of bread from the local shop. Take the nine-year-old-imagined cover of Limp Bizkit’s Gold Cobra for instance. Or DJ Shadow’s I’m Excited. I think you’ll find, Mr Shadow, that it should be called Not That Arsed.
Of course, a lot of album covers are so bad they’re amazing, such as Little Feat’s Hoy-Hoy!, Neil Young’s Everybody’s Rockin’ and Ted Nugent’s Scream Dream. But the two efforts above are up there with the very worst (and charmless) examples of retina-offending sleeves.
What follows is a particularly choice selection of badness. Be warned, if you keep scrolling you will see a middle-aged man in stockings…
Tom Zé – Todos Os Olho (1973)
Tom Zé was one of the founding fathers of Brazil’s late-60s, The-Beatles-via-the-Amazon Tropicalia movement. He wrote brilliantly madcap songs meant to defy the oppressive military government and, in 1973, released Todos Os Olho. The sound is a compelling mix of reckless, star-bright, shrieking psych-pop but playing it is less appealing once you’ve learned it’s not an eye looking out at you, but a marble clenched very tightly in Zé’s very own bum hole. That’s right.
Joss Stone – Colour Me Free (2009)
Easily the maddest and baddest of recent covers – one that Limp Bizkit’s Gold Cobra comes perilously close to in terms of “what the blithering flip?” Stone had already built an eccentric rep for herself by “going” American at the Brit Awards, managing herself and wearing bonkers outfits – but no one was prepared for this paint-by-numbers mess of tangled limbs. I like to think there’s a message here about yoga being bad for you.
This is just one ludicrous example of Storm Thorgerson’s handiwork – just as head-in-hands bad as his sleeve for The Mars Volta’s De-Loused in the Comatorium. Of course, this UK-born graphic designer is also responsible for Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and his weirdness is often to be applauded. If only his inner taste-o-meter was just more finely calibrated then he might not make Photoshop missteps like this, or work with Phish and The Wombats.
Kevin Rowland – My Beauty (1999)
Rumours of unconventional sexy goings-on abounded ahead of Kevin Rowland’s 1999 comeback album for Creation Records. So in a statement of defiance – or was he just having a giggle? – the Dexys Midnight Runners frontman rolled up his stockings and clutched his purse in full view. It went down badly with record buyers, and even worse with punters who saw him wearing the same outfit at the Reading Festival.
The Scorpions – Lovedrive (1979)
Prince’s Planet Earth, Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, Dolly Parton’s Bubbling Over, about a million hip-hop albums… there are just too many terrible sleeves out there. But why choose just anything to gawp and grin at when the sleeve of The Scorpions’ Lovedrive album exists. It’s supposed to be “sex and rock ’n’ roll,” say the band, but the allure of melting boobs is surely limited.
That’s just a few of the very worst. Care to tell us what your favourite worst album covers are?