On the last day of every month weâ€™ll be doing a round up of some of the notable releases and checking out their cover art. If we left a good one out, let us know. (note: as weâ€™re playing catch up, some of these may be late June).
Wilco: Wilco (The Album)
This is Wilco’s seventh album and the first time they’ve used a single photograph as their cover art. I really love this image, which was taken in Milwaukee during a gleeful time for the band. They’d just played two enthusiastically received gigs at Pabst Theatre, the lead singer had thrown the first pitch at a Brewers game and two of the band members took part in the local sausage race. The same sense of throwaway joy and confidence can be seen in this cover, which takes us into the world of a strange little party. Hosted by someone that paradoxically went to the trouble of sourcing a camel but not comfortable furniture or ample catering, it’s the type of shindig I wouldn’t miss for the world.
The album’s attracted a fair few party poopers however and you’ll find plenty of gripers across the web bemoaning everything from the indulgent title through to the ‘pretentious’ cover art and dodgy typography. I must say, I don’t think they needed the text either but when you’re a guest it’s rude to quibble isn’t it?
The Dead Weather: Horehound
Jack White is a man of surprises. The last album from The Raconteurs came out of nowhere, with a dearth of hype and pre-publicity that was almost unheard of. So it is with the arrival of alternative supergroup The Dead Weather, which includes members of The White Stripes, The Kills, Queens of the Stone Age and The Greenhornes. The band formed after an impromptu jam session in January and only announced their existence a few moments before releasing their debut single “Hang You from the Heavens” in March. The cover is all about vocalist Alison Mossheart and with its scratchy, neo-gothic imagery it has been compared to PJ Harvey.
Gasp! As Jack White’s ex-wife Meg prepares to remarry, does the appearance of a glamorous new collaborator spells trouble for one of alternative music’s most celebrated creative unions? (Just trying to add a little tabloid magazine flair to the site)
The Mars Volta: Octahedron
The Mars Volta are a bit of a perennial favourite for sleeve lovers, however the latest album Octahedron has surfaced with surprising little fanfare. Billed by lead singer Cedric Bixler Zavala as their “pop record”, it features work by talented painter and illustrator Jeff Jordon, who has previously created cover art for the band.
Jordon ensures his own un-trendiness by declaring surrealism his favourite “ism”. His dogged commitment to craft and defiance of contemporary trends have contributed towards a successful career as a unique illustrator. But as much as I like a lot of the work on his site, I’m not crazy for this cover, which feels a bit like a random collection of obvious symbols (“naked lady!”, “crab!”, “garlic!”, “fruit!”, “musical instrument!”) The only unusual addition is the aforementioned Octahedron, which is a “Platonic solid composed of eight equilateral triangles, four of which meet at each vertex.”
Regina Spektor: Far
The kooky, piano-playing, oversharing female singer-songwriter became such a cliche in the late 90′s that it’s a testament to Spektor’s talent and individuality that she has avoided any stereotypes throughout the last decade. So I can only imagine that this cover is an inspired and self-destructive attempt to undo all of her hard work so far. Whereas previous covers have referenced her cultural heritage or traded in on her exotic beauty and charisma, this one speaks for itself.
The album has been well received, although the eccentric Spektor was prepared for criticism. “I mean, in this book, it’s music criticism from the 19th century, and they’re ripping Tchaikovsky a new asshole, but the thing that really gets me is that it’s written so beautifully. It’s nasty reviews in beautiful language, and that’s what I want…. I want you to write poetically about how bad I suck.”
After reading this, I coincidentally read anÂ album review by Christopher Alexander on cokemachineglow.
“The window of Regina Spektorâ€™s apartment may be walled in, but on the cover of Far her piano is made of clear skies. The image is obviously meant to be an inversion of reality to strike at some beautiful metaphor, but one instead wonders if her real piano is actually made of bricks.Â I find the image striking for another reason…The albumâ€™s artwork is a perfect visual accompaniment to its album: effortless, natural songs performed by an enigmatic performer and trapped in a chrome, hermetic casing.”
That’s poetic enough I would think.
Moby: Wait for Me
Because I feel guilty for being so snarky about Spektor’s cover I thought that I should share Moby’s latest effort, as it makes Far look like Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Moby drew it all by himself and, in a side note, I can’t help wondering if he’s a fan of Australia’s Leunig?
Rob Thomas: cradlesong
What kind of look do you suspect Rob Thomas was going for here? New age sensitive serial killer?
I saw him on television last night and he was really likable, one of those celebrities that can go on a panel show with comedians and match them for wit in an easy-going, genial fashion. According to them, he’s contributed to 80 million record sales worldwide and, while it’s not my kind of music, if it was easy to write the middle-of-the-road rock pop that Thomas specialises in then, let’s face it, everyone would. His latest single has been a hit in many markets and it’s written about his wife and her illness. What I’m getting at is that while he’ll never be considered cool, he deserves better than this.
Midlife: A Beginner’s Guide To Blur
When fans started giving the band a hard time for the name of their latest compilation, Graham Coxon replied angrily on Twitter that it’s not like they get to decide everything. He placed the responsibility firmly on the record company. Nonetheless, the title is an apt description of this release, which unlike the ‘best of’ selection is meant to act as more of an overview and primer to their whole career, not just the commercial successes.
One of my favourite things about Blur is what musical journeymen they are. And their unwillingness to stay in one sound or genre for too long is matched only by the extreme skill they bring to each one. So I suppose this cover is intended to match the ‘textbook’ feel of the compilation’s title and provide a rather literal snapshot of career highlights and geographical, social and political influences. The last thing I expected was to see an album cover that features Tony Blair much as Time Magazine would but perhaps that’s my favourite thing about Blur – they rarely do what you’d expect.
Of course this opinion may be more a case of favouritism, as this cover has been one of the most poorly received all month. What it does recognise is that music and musical artists (and designers) don’t exist in a vacuum. They are shaped by what happens around them. So if that’s the case, what does July’s cover art say about now?