Album covers over the years have gone through highs and lows but now it is going through a bit of a resurgence with plenty of talent being displayed and boundaries being broken. Though for many bands it is only used as a visual accompaniment to the real product, their music, but for some it is a chance to show some real creativity and give art and artists a more commercialised and therefore bigger audience to play to. Many people see the album cover and the artwork on it as a collectable piece of music history and in many ways it can be as popular, sought after or iconic as the band or music they create.
One man who is really creating some brilliant and thought-provoking work is one of my favourite artists and the man behind some of my favourite album covers, Leif Podhajsky. Fans of Tame Impala, Foals, The Horrors, TOY, Grimes, Splashh, Lykke Li and many more will recognise the name or they should as he created artwork for ‘Holy Fire’, the singles and their recent stage banner for the current run of shows for Foals, artwork for both Tame Impala albums, artwork for the ‘Higher’ boxset by The Horrors, tour posters for Grimes and plenty of other works. His work is often described as colourful, different and psychedelic full of colour distortion, plenty of graphics and edited images from around the world making colours and scenes stronger and more poignant.
Speaking to Clash magazine earlier this year, Podhajsky had this to say about rise, fall and importance of album artwork; “I think album artwork has lost some of its magic in the transition to digital medium, … Nowadays, it’s crept back into vogue as people realise how key it is to connecting with an audience. Visuals are usually the first thing people associate with a band or record and it has to tell the story of what’s inside. I like to think of [my job as creating] visual stories for musical adventures.”
The late Storm Thorgerson is another big name in the world of album art and probably the most well-known creating some of the most iconic covers over the space of 40-50 years. The Pink Floyd covers are what really made him a household name and skyrocketed his fame but his portfolio of work is huge. Starting out in 1968, he has worked with so many artists including Muse, The Offspring, Black Sabbath, Anthrax, Rainbow, Led Zepplin, The Cult and his most recent work was the cover for Biffy Clyro’s latest release ‘Opposites’ after working with the band on two of their previous releases ‘Puzzle’ and ‘Only Revolutions’. The nature of his work usually told a story and broke the boundaries of what was deemed capable on such a small canvas. Some of his work is more basic, some is more intricate but there is always something about it that draws you in whether it is the use of colour, graphics or storytelling. He ruled the roost for so long and is hugely respected because of the way he thought outside the 12” and then smaller CD sized box.
Though with vinyl making its comeback over the past few years the need for good artistic album covers has really become important again. Bands and artists have been commissioning artists to create a piece worthy of being on the front, inside and back of their record sleeve hopefully one that will tell a story about the music. Album artwork is not and never has been made for the tiny little square you see on your iPod’s and that is surely why the magic of it was lost for a while. Deemed unnecessary and replaced with basic/boring designs or in the case of most pop acts a picture of the singer or boy/girl band. Though some photos or photo style covers can actually work and be interesting or considered works of art such as the iconic ‘London Calling’ cover by The Clash.
But it’s not just the rise in the bigger format helping this resurgence; it is also the need for creativity and standing out from the crowd that a lot of bands have these days. In an over-saturated music industry it is harder for bands to be noticed whether they are good or not so band image has become essential again and this very often crosses over onto album artwork. For example, The xx with the ‘x’ featuring on t-shirt’s and album artwork, Alt-J and the triangle and also Bastille’s use of the triangle but Bastille also have another interesting and creative take on their iconography. When the band released their ‘Other People’s Heartaches’ mixtapes of covers mixed with film and TV quotes the artwork that went with the music were mini vintage style film posters tying in the link to movies. This has carried on throughout the release of their debut album ‘Bad Blood’ with the artwork for that, the cinematic mini movies of their music videos, their show in an small old cinema in London and the pre-release album screening in a sort of online cinema for fans signed up to the site. They have in a way, through their love of film and wanting to incorporate that into their artwork, created a bit of a niche making themselves instantly recognisable to many.
Bands feel they need to offer fans more for their money in a world of illegal downloading and something like this is a way to keep fans interested and buying something they can treasure all while producing a body of work they can be proud of. The Secret 7” project, part of Record Store Day, also puts a huge spotlight on artwork drafting in big name artists to produce limited edition covers for one of that year’s singles. All sold in small quantities, the idea is people don’t know what song they’re buying and make their purchase based purely on sleeve artwork.
I’ve always been a huge fan of album artwork treating it like a more affordable piece of art to collect and admire. With plenty of talented artists, the rise of vinyl, the need to produce works of art to put on them and the creative opportunities available with the internet it seems a very exciting time to be involved in the world of creating or collecting album artwork.