“Wow did you see so-and-so’s album art?” Now that’s a conversation that you rarely hear thrown around. At a time that is probably the most gruelling and stressful for graphic designers and illustrators alike, we seem to forget just how important album design is. It has the potential to generate meaningful conversation and evoke feelings that no words could express.
So with that in mind, we at Music Bloggery decided we’d pay homage to the most savvy yet underrated album artworks (in no order).
No, not the Beatles or the Velvet Underground, these are pieces you forgot or got lost along the way. Pieces that have become iconic in their own right.
Everything Everything – A Fever Dream
In a country divided over the joy that is Brexit (sarcasm detected), along came an album about the divisive vote that left a country in two. With an album cover of intertwined bodies in a hot mess, in 2017, Everything Everything released their fourth LP which landed them their second Mercury Prize award nomination. The album itself was ahead of its time as it was released just after the UK voted to leave the European Union, before the conversation was as inflated as it is now. Not only is a politically charged album is a refreshing sight to see in today’s apathetic times, but it’s heightened by the artistry photographed by Paul Phung and edited by Joe Mortimer.
Bassist Jeremy Pritchard told HMV that they “thought it really encapsulated the hazy vibe of the album, the kind of distorted reality”, and that it is. Not being able to tell limb from limb, spending most of your time trying to decipher one blob of orange skin from another, this is a piece of art that perfectly complements the crux of this album – the world we’re living in right now is scary, a fever dream.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – I’m With You
Having a bold artist like Damien Hirst to do your album art is one way to make your album recognised, that’s for sure. RHCP haven’t missed a trick here as the art evokes both the band’s past and present. As highlighted in our detailed album review, the giant pill on the cover harks back to the band’s past of substance abuse. The title ‘I’m With You’ imprinted on the pill represents the comforting reassurance of addition, while the fly hovering on top of the pill harks to the base, degrading nature of this abuse and symbolises a new turn for the band. Rather than glorifying drugs as they did in the past, the fly shows how they recognise the debauched nature of drugs, suggesting that the band are aware of the negative impact it has on their lives and want to build a new future. Great artwork: simple yet effective.
Post Malone – Beerbongs and Bentleys
There’s something to be said about the combination of yellow and black. Superbly eye catching, it’s commonly used on airport signs because of how effective it is in highlighting a focal point, and Post Malone’s second release, Beerbongs and Bentleys does just that. It’s loud, proud, and tells the world that Post Malone is not a one hit wonder. The front cover is transparent and the CD itself bright yellow, harking back to the recent vinyl record of Beyonce’s Lemonade. The yellow theme is something Post Malone has run with in recent concerts and for the branding for his own festival, Posty Fest.
Hard-Fi – Stars of CCTV
Now I mentioned that yellow and black is commonly used in airports to highlight relevant signs, and this is a perfect example of artwork and symbols being used in the same way. It’s very simple in theory, but somehow, this image becomes etched in your mind. I don’t know about you but whenever I hear ‘Living for the Weekend’, I can’t help but envision this album artwork. This combination of colours is typically used in artwork to be matter-of-factly, straight to the point, and goes hand in hand with the album, aptly named ‘Stars of CCTV’. The composition and colour combination of the artwork tells us that we’re always being watched, and we should go out of our way to remember that.
Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Now I don’t know about you, but when someone says Kendrick Lamar this album art is one of the first things that pops up in my head. This minimalistic set-up with Kendrick as the focal point works so effectively. The colouring with the white and contrast red, the basic serif font, even the composition of the photo all work seamlessly together to create an image that will never leave your mind; not least because the album itself was so successful.
Tame Impala – Currents
The classic Tame Impala album which features their most recognisable song, ‘The Less I Know the Better’, was designed by artist Robert Beatty, an artist specialising in psychedelic graphic design. He claims the designs are based on a diagram of vortex shedding (the complex process where a fluid such as an air or water flows past through a curved body as opposed to a streamlined body) and this reflects Beatty’s vision of the wider themes and sounds of the album. Often described as psychedelic, the “strangeness comes from the way [the lyrics] cut against the lusciousness of the arrangements”.
The image is incredibly powerful because what looks like a pinball on the cover (part of the beauty is in its ambiguity too), symbolises the force of this record, making literal ripples in the world of music. The sharp contrast between the deep purple and the hot pink/orange colour of the ball’s path go further to emphasise this.
Boston – Boston (self-titled album)
Graphic design students amongst you would know the legendary designer behind this iconic artwork. Having begun designing album covers in the early 70s, Paula Scher created this bizarre graphic display of guitars, resembling the shape of UFOs. These guitar UFOs are shown taking over the Earth, symbolising the power of this record and symbolic for rock as a genre at the time. The album was released in 1976, a time when classic and punk rock was rippling the music industry and a time where it was at its peak. The thought behind this artwork is simple but it works very effectively in this case and served as the springboard to Paular Scher’s successful career.
Frank Ocean – Blond
This album art reminds me of the days of Instagram when you would have to use apps to create borders that would allow you to put your full size image within Instagram’s square frame (social media experts, if you know you know). However, the saving grace of the album cover is the blend of beautiful colours. The light grey provides a perfect backdrop to Ocean’s chocolate brown skin tone contrasted with the sharp green which is really the focal point of the artwork.
The whole album stemmed from the idea around how Ocean’s blonde dye backfired which becomes a metaphor for life and overarching theme of the album.
Bloc Party – Intimacy
Having listened to this album during my formative years, there’s something about the taboo nature of this artwork that I can never forget. The way the two mouths interlock is almost geometric in nature and the close up nature of the shot makes the image become less human and more abstract but the topic of intimacy still remains at the core. The image makes it uncomfortable to look at; you feel like a voyeur, as if you are intruding on a private and personal moment which is exactly how the album itself makes you feel.