February 03, 2007

Album art

One of my favourite things in the world. Admittedly less.. accessible in this era of revolution(you know the one I’m on about) , but still such an integral part of the whole package. I was just listening to The Verve’s first record, A Storm in Heaven,and having a look through the sleeve and came across some ‘too good’ pictures, and kind of got lost in there. So I’m going to try to remember some of my favourite album packages, and list them. And post pictures. I hope its not gonna be too much of a mission. Its definitely not gonna be in order of preference.

1.Right, first one to roll in this list has got to be Michael Jackson’s Dangerous. I’m sorry, but that’s legendary. First album cover that I loved. Possibly the first one I ever saw. First one I remember anyway. Contrary to what those three might add up to, that wasn’t the first song I heard as well. It is just that one of my sisters had decided that would appeal to me most when the time came for me to own my first tape. I of-course had no say in the matter, even though I accompanied her to that shop around the corner at Elephant Road, Geetanjoli. I was handed that tape and the moment my eyes met Michael’s coming out of that totally unnecessary attempt at resembling a Boa Constrictor, I redeemed its value to my heart. This was not going anywhere. I have to say, I liked Give in to me (ok ,and Keep the faith too) and even though I last listened to it like fifteen years ago, you can’t take anything away from the ones that come first.

2. Now moving on there’s another one I can’t ignore. That’s The Stone Temple Pilots’ Purple. Quite apart from being one of the best records to have come out of the early 90s Grunge scene, the album art was mostly in Chinese! Now who did that? They even cultivated an air of mystery around the name of the record by writing it in Chinese, so various theories came up about it having different names like ‘Cake’. Now what rock band names their album ‘Cake’? Come to think of it, what rock band names their album ‘Purple’? Anyway, Stone Temple Pilots were good though, and I especially liked the cover for depicting a smile from to ear-to-ear that is so rarely reproduced in art: That of our Chinese brothers. Not seeing it enough in real life is no excuse. And yes, those figures in the drawing are girls, but when I said brothers I meant sisters too.

3. Up next is the classic. Some sort of equivalent of that Che Guevara print(yes yes) in the music world. Its Dark Side of the Moon of-course, Pink Floyd’s seminal 1979 record. So simple in its magic, so elucidating in its message. That is one image that grows more and more quality the older it gets. If you’ve ever been retro, you’ve had that image lying around in view somewhere. Anyway, what made the sleeve so good was its minimalism. Its come out repackaged as a commemorative version, but I didn’t like it, it was too bluesy. I don’t think they were attempting to match the original one though, they surely know it can’t be done.

4.When it comes to a band that’s consistently brought out some really cool sleeves, Pearl Jam have to be right up there. From the cosmic picture book that was Binaural, to the almost ominous book on health that was Vitalogy to the lyrics-on-backs-of-polaroids trick they pulled on No Code, bassist Jeff Ament and his brother Barry, have consistently come up with interesting, novel concepts.

5. Another band where one of the members plays a prominent part in designing the sleeve is Radiohead. Their lead singer, Thom Yorke, the lead singer, usually works with this really taar-chira(off-the-wall) artist from Plymouth, Stanley Donwood on the drawings. My favourite from them is the OK Computer one. One of the very few truly great concept albums since the 70s, the record itself is the definitive lament of our enslavement at the hands of technology and the sleeve supports the message perfectly.

6. You get that with The Strokes’ Is this It? as well, the feeling that the sleeve complements the music. Not quite wholly independent of the erotic merits of that inviting derriere, the image just reeks of cheek. And if there’s one thing The Strokes are never short of, at-least in their first two records, its cheek. Without it, no band could have breathed the life back into the Punk scene as they did.

7. The Verve did some really good ones. They usually hire Brian Cannon, who is a totally brilliant digital artist and designed for Oasis as well(notably Definitely Maybe). As for his work with The Verve, he consistently presented some cracking images. I love the war zone trying to pass as a room in the cover of the Verve EP, the pictures depicting the band members buying their feelings from vending machines in the sleeve for A Northern Soul, and no sunset has ever looked quite like the one on the cover of the Gravity Grave single. I also loved the idea of bathing The Verve logo in some pristine looking water falling down the mountains on the cover of their singles collection that came out after they had disbanded, keeping in mind that on the cover of A Storm in Heaven, their debut album, it was on fire at the entrance to Thor’s Cave in Staffordshire.

8. From the relatively recent records, I really love the Arctic Monkeys’ Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not sleeve. The picture on the cover of a guy who’s clearly been done no good by smoking too much is a classic, and the lyric sheet contains no lyrics but rather pictures of life up north in Sheffield, which is where they come from and mostly sing about. That might sound cheesy but its not. Not they way they’ve done it at-least. From further up north, in-fact all the way from Iceland, Sigur Ros also did a really cool cover for their latest album, Takk. It’s a stencilled art print and there is an air of mystery around the image that is not unfound in the music as well.

9. I should have mentioned The Stone Roses earlier. Guitarist John Squire was a very talented painter as well, and all of their sleeves feature his paintings, which were all from the Abstract Expression movement promulgated by Jackson Pollack. The cover for their eponymous debut had the band’s logo and three lemons imposed on a background of one of Squire’s prints, titled Bye Bye Badman. The reason for the lemons ? Like many artists, Squire derived a lot of his inspiration from the student riots of 1968, when lemons were used by the rioters in Paris as an antidote to tear gas. A nice way to pay tribute, and an equally nice bit of info for any of their fans planning to attend a riot. And for

10. I’ll round off my list with Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy. Storm Thorgerson, the man who did the Dark Side of the Moon one as well and is an overall legend in the field, did this one. He took some children and photographed them in Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, played around with the photos and came up with this otherworldly effect that denies the record’s name no justice. Another classic.

I may have forgotten a few, but these are some of the ones I love. I’ll post some other ones if I remember them. Actually maybe I won’t. I've totally messed up posting the images. These will do.

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