Album art. It’s something I love with a passion. I guess it’s a major reason why I still value the physical product more than the digital download. Perhaps it’s the main reason why I have not whole heartedly embraced the digital era. I dunno. Answers on a postcard on that one I guess. But there is something far more interesting and special to me about having the physical product, with all the love and thought that’s gone into the art and packaging, than just the encoded data that exists anywhere on the net.
Jake our old bassist once told me there are 2 ways to approach album art. The first approach is to adopt the Tesco/Asda approach towards album art. Emblazon your name on the cover, make the cover bright, fantastic, loud. Something that screams “here I am, come buy me”. The other approach is of course the more minimalist approach. Subtle art, understated, minimal, that whispers “come closer and see what I’m all about”. I always seem to be drawn in by the latter. For example, I hate Babyshambles, but the cover of their debut album ‘Down In Albion’ is just lovely. It drew me in when I first saw it in a music shop. I wanted to know what it was. Obviously, I didn’t buy it in the end, but the art is great. Even if it is just a little bit of writing and a doodle.
Wilco are a band whose album art has constantly inspired. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is not only my favourite record but the cover art is fantastic. Maybe it’s a personal thing on this one. The Marina Towers in Chicago, which feature on the front cover, became one of my favourite buildings when I was working on my Masters thesis on tall buildings. There’s something magical about them and it was so coincidental and bizarre when that album dropped and there they were on the front cover. I think if I could live anywhere in the world then having a flat in the Marina Towers would be up there. So cool. The album art also provided me with a lovely shot looking across Lake Michigan to the city, which I used in my thesis. Their follow up record ‘A Ghost Is Born’ also had lovely art work. A simplistic white egg on a white background, both evocative and beautifully linked to the title of the record. And ‘Sky Blue Sky’ similarly produced a stunning piece of cover art in my opinion. A flock of birds against a stark white background. Black on white. Minimalist. Stunningly beautiful. Perhaps another reason I took a while to warm to ‘Wilco the Album’ had as much to do with my disappointment in the album artwork as my difficulty with the music itself.
Sigur Ros are another group who seem to spend as much time thinking about the artwork and packaging for their records as the music itself. Making sure that every little detail from the first time you see a record til the last note finishes is a beautiful experience. ‘Takk’ would be a perfect example for me. Lovely packaging. Gorgeous art. Great music. Job done in my eyes. Every detail planned beautifully. Whilst not my favourite album by Sigur Ros’ musically, it certainly wins in terms of art and packaging.
Micah P Hinson may well produce my favourite album art of all. One of his covers was featured in my ‘The Things I Love Today’ feature. The art, in this case photography, within that album is just stunning. There is something very, very sexual and sensual about his album art. It teases you with its beauty and sensuality. It’s a million times more interesting and sexy than porn. 100 hundred million times actually. His latest offering is obviously a different ball park altogether but equally as stunning, without the overt sexuality. I just think it is fantastic how much time and effort goes into the production of a Micah P Hinson record.
Ultimately, good art makes me want to buy a record even more. There are so many examples out there. I couldn’t possibly list every single piece of album art I love. But it’s that love, care and attention to detail which keeps me buying cds. I get as excited about seeing what new album art looks like as I do about hearing a record for the first time. I guess this could be seen as a little sad. But it was Andy Warhol who said “an artist is someone who produces things that people don’t need to have but that he – for some reason – thinks it would be a good idea to give them.” In this digital age I see a lot of relevance in this quote relating to album art. I for one am happy there are still people out there who care. Who keep creating beautiful album art work. And keep me buying cds.