Listening with the Eye

Being the wild and crazy guy that I am, I own a copy of Fairport Convention’s 1969 album “Unhalfbricking”. I quite like the album, but what’s more striking than the music is the cover…

I can’t decide if that’s the best album cover of all time, or the worst. Looking at it again, I don’t think I’d previously realised that you can see the members of the band there in the background. This artwork was designed for a 12” sleeve in mind, and you can’t really appreciate all the details now it’s shrunk down to CD size. This got me thinking about album art in the modern era.

It seems to me that many modern designers still think they’re designing for an LP sleeve, and make “busy” covers which don’t work on a 5” by 5” canvasses. I went to Amazon.com to find some examples of what I mean…

Other designers seemingly realise the limitations of the small medium and take the opposite approach: going for very simple, bold icons…

While eye-catching, I don’t think they’re appropriate for every album. They can look a little severe, or even clinical. Also, how many interesting, unique symbols can there be? Some swine already used “light going through a prism”. Before too long, someone would be reduced to having the “Do not iron” symbol from clothing labels.

What complicates the issue is that albums can be released on both CD and vinyl, so they ideally need to have a cover which is suitable both. You need something that’s eye-catching at the smaller size, but which also has rich detail when blown up. Again, here are a few good examples…

Of those, I think that the Elbow cover is the best. The bold, white Rubik’s Cube is striking for a CD, but at LP size, you can really see the interesting Lowry-esque things going on. Musically, it’s a damn fine album too.

All this talk of ‘physical’ musical products is actually really quaint. We’re living in the days of the download, when artwork is less important. It’s a shame, because in the past, a great album cover could make all the difference. One glance at the cover below was enough to convince John Peel to play the songs on air. And hence a whole new musical genre was popularised…

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Posted on January 30, 2011, in Misophonic and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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