Mason Weis

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Dissecting Album Artwork

Hey everyone! I’m back again with another post for today so without further ado, let’s jump back in.

Album artwork is an aspect of design that I personally believe is criminally underrated. Many people seem so interested in the music they’re listening to that they usually only regard the artwork it's paired with with an “oh that’s kind of cool” and nothing more. So today, I'm going to try and inspire some interest in album artwork by discussing three pieces of art from two different albums.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Created by Jann Haworth and Peter Blake

Created by Jann Haworth and Peter Blake

What better place to start than with one of the most iconic album covers of all time? Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released in 1967 by the one and only Beatles and is a revolutionary piece when one considers album artwork. This especially holds true when one considers the type of album artwork that was released around this time.

To compare things, let's look at two contemporary albums:

Out of Our Heads by the Rolling Stones (1965)

Out of Our Heads by the Rolling Stones (1965)

Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys (1966)

Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys (1966)

As these two album covers exemplify, during the '60s, most album covers focused on one thing: showing the listener who it was that made the music they were listening to. If you look at an album from this time period, chances are the musicians are going to be looking back at you. Don't believe me? Just Google "'60s album covers." For Sgt. Pepper's, howeverthe Beatles took this concept to another level entirely, and applied their usual sarcastic twist to things by posing for a vibrant, colorful and downright strange "band portrait" as the Lonely Heart's Club Band.

However, the concept itself does not solely make this a standout example of good album artwork. The creation of this cover is also important to consider. It goes without saying that programs like Photoshop weren't around in the 1960s. This cover was photographed. Someone (probably a team of someones) had to hand make every cardboard cutout/wax figure, arrange the flowers in the foreground, create the set and prepare the costumes The Beatles are wearing. The sheer amount of effort that went into this cover to ensure that its design is both cohesive and appealing is incredibly remarkable to say the least.

The Life of Pablo and Yeezus

So this next section might be a little bit more contentious. See... while many people regard the Beatles' music highly, and most would probably agree that the Sgt. Peppers album cover is iconic and well thought out in its own right, Kanye West and his work is a much more controversial topic. Let's just start things off with the album covers themselves: 

The Yeezus Album Cover

The Yeezus Album Cover

TLOP Album Cover by Peter De Potter

TLOP Album Cover by Peter De Potter

Here they are. Now on first glance, one might not think much of these two album covers. One of them is incredibly messy looking and the other technically isn't even an album cover at all. However, the aesthetics of each actually do a lot for the album as a whole. As I previously mentioned, album covers back in the day made an effort to display the musicians one was listening to, albums nowadays focus so much more on conveying the essence or tone of the album.

Let's start with Yeezus. After releasing an album that was as carefully crafted and lush in production as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, West went to the well known producer Rick Rubin to help make his next outing a more stripped down, minimalist listen. Everything about Yeezus embodied this minimalism. For example, there was little to no marketing, and only two singles were released (half the number that were released from MBDTF). Looking at the album cover for Yeezus, it's clear its appearance follows suit, which strengthens the idea behind the album. It's Kanye, but it's naked, stripped down, more simple but equally more direct and to the point.

The Life of Pablo, however, is a different story altogether. Instead of leaving his album bare, Kanye hired Belgian artist Peter De Potter to create the cover for his most recent work. While many have criticized the cover for its "lazy" appearance, it's clear that an effort was made to convey something. When listening to The Life of Pablo, that something becomes more apparent. Many songs on TLOP address Kanye's supposed mental instability. For example, in the song, Feedback, Kanye proclaims, "I've been outta my mind a long time." Furthermore, many critics noted that the music in the album (especially in its initial iterations) came off as disorganized and fragmented. In a way, The Life of Pablo is a record that sees Kanye embracing the world's perception of his mental state, and pushing it back on his listeners. The album cover looks messy because that's what the mind of someone who is unstable is like. Once again, the album art matches the tone.

I could write a lot more about this subject on a variety of different albums because the subject is incredibly interesting to me, but I think I've gone on for long enough. Wrapping things up though, it should be apparent that album artwork has come a long way. Not only that, but the effort many designers put into album covers nowadays in their efforts to match the tone of the music in the album makes album art worth looking at and examining in its own right. After all, it is art.

I'll leave with this: think about how each of these albums sound and how that matches up with the artwork If you haven't heard them, try and picture what they would sound like. I bet it's a lot more telling than you'd think.

 

Until next time!

Mason Weis