There are so many aspects in which to analyze an album’s artwork. There’s no rule book when it comes to their conception, legal issues notwithstanding (see Van Morrison’s recent Roll with The Punches). Most music fans will tell you that not all album covers are created equally, the most intricate of which could rival the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel, and the least intricate looking like a sixteen-second Photoshop job. I believe that any good album cover should inspire the viewer in some way or another. For the case of the analysis below, I’m looking at album covers that can transport me mentally to a different place. Album covers that can stand alone, and have a life all to themselves. To be more specific, as my chosen title for this entry implies, album covers I’d want to experience.
This was one of the first potential blog topics I wanted to share, and around a year later, I’m finally getting to it.
Here are some things that you won’t be seeing on the list:
- anything showcasing Richard D. James’ creepy mug
- anything Vince Locke did for Cannibal Corpse (for reasons that shouldn’t need explaining )
- covers with nothing but a lifeless, staged photo of the band (which eliminates most Greatest Hits compilations or albums by The Beach Boys )
- the many nameless gospel or polka albums that are left to bake in the sun at rummage sales the world over
With that business taken care of, here’s what I think are five excellent choices.
Thin Lizzy – Live and Dangerous
I’ll make it easy by leading off with a live album. I wanted to pick one of an era of artists career I’d loved to have experienced first-hand. I’ve thought of including one of Genesis Live or Rush’s All the World’s a Stage, but thought the guy-to-girl ratio might be a little to high in those audiences for some people’s tastes, so I’m going with some good old hard rock with Thin Lizzy’s Live and Dangerous.
There are a massive amount of musicians I’d love to see live, but here’s an example of one that would have been downright impossible to have witnessed. I’m too young to have experienced Thin Lizzy in-concert seeing as band linchpin Phil Lynott passed away before I even learned how to walk. The closest I ever got was catching guitarist Scott Gorham with Black Star Riders (they did play ‘Jailbreak’ to the crowd’s delight).
This is ideally how a concert is supposed to be viewed, with a front-row-center perspective, and the assurance that there aren’t hundreds of smartphones flashing behind you. I could only hope that Mr. Lynott isn’t only part of the way through a crowd-pleasing slide across the stage, or else I’d be getting to know the man a little too well for my comfort. I was close enough at a Bob Mould show that I was sprayed with his sweat a few times, but that’s where I draw the line.
Scorpions – Lovedrive
Here we have a Storm Thorgerson/Hipnosis creation, who is perhaps best known for Pink Floyd’s highly-recognizable The Dark Side of The Moon art, as well as Wish You Were Here, and Animals. Thorgerson was an in-demand cover designer for much of his life. Even taken out those famous Floyd sleeves, you’d still have a great likelihood of owning one of his many album creations.
While the Scorpions may have been gradually evolving to a more American hard rock style at this stage in their career, they still brought forth the controversy with regards to their covers. It caught the eyes of the Playboy staff, who gave Lovedrive their album artwork of the year award for 1979. Don’t dismiss the accolade as merely a popularity contest. The Eagles’ The Long Run didn’t even get an honourable mention.
Some readers may be assuming what my perverted intentions are if I think that I’d want to experience this scene, but it’s not what you think. She’s an attractive woman, possibly out of my league, but even I’m not desperate enough to rely on some Bazooka Joe gag as an icebreaker. Based on the woman’s cold, expressionless face, it doesn’t look like it has placed this gentleman into her good graces.
I’d like to have experienced this from the perspective of the photographer. I want to know what exactly lead to this mishap occurring. I can only speculate, and I relish in the opportunity to do so. Was this gum being used to keep the strap of her dress in place (which quite clearly failed to hold)? Was the man pre-chewing it for the woman, and handing it over to her in the most clumsy way possible? Is she a runway model, and the man stuck to her is an outside-the-box fashion accessory? That’s a bit unrealistic, no?
Well then how about this:
Seeing as that is a significant amount of gum in use in this picture, quite clearly an unreasonable amount to have been chewed at once, I believe these two lovers were independently chewing half that wad each. I prefer a spearmint gum to alleviate foul breath if I’m on a big date, but since this photo was taken somewhere across the Atlantic, bubblegum may in fact be a more desirable odour. They got a bit physical, started playing tonsil hockey, and in the process fused all the gum into a mammoth portion.
But only if I was there could I be certain of that.
Iron Maiden – Somewhere In Time
Artist Derek Riggs could arguably get as much credit as anybody for the band’s popularity. Metal music is not for everybody, but such detailed illustrations have more universal appeal. There are many out there who’d proudly wear a t-shirt featuring Eddie (the armed dude above, who appears in different contexts on all their album covers), yet if you play them an Iron Maiden song, they’d run out of the room as if it was on fire.
I hate to disappoint Maiden fans out there, but I was never too big on this album. The cover, on the other hand, is a whole other story. I’m not even certain where this would rank among my favourite Maiden album artwork because most of their covers (singles included) are absolutely stunning. In spite of my lack of passion for some of the album’s material, an 18” Eddie figurine from the cover sits proudly on my shelf, and I jumped at the chance to grab the vinyl edition of Somewhere In Time when spotting it at a local record shop (Star Records in Oshawa) over a decade ago. What better way to drink in the above imagery than through the 12” by 12” manner in which it was originally intended?
In fact, it doesn’t feel proper to simply show the front sleeve. Here’s the full concept image, most of which spans across the original front and back covers.
While an astute observer can catch nods to those such as science fiction authors Ray Bradbury and Philip K. Dick, I’d view exploring this place akin to travelling to an Iron Maiden theme park. Many of the attractions are based off song titles or other important aspects of Maiden’s career. You can get tipsy at the Aces High Bar, fill your stomach at the Ancient Mariner Seafood Restaurant, and catch a show at the Phantom Opera House. What can be seen appears to be enough to fill a solid weekend of activity, but there is plenty that I can imagine unseen just around the corner. I’m sure that many weary travellers would be seeking Charlotte the Harlot’s services somewhere in the vicinity of 22 Acacia Avenue 😉
I apologize. That last reference actually appears on an even more expanded version of the artwork. If you can understand or make the effort to interpret Spanish, here’s a guide to some of the finer details. Zoom in close to see if you can spot anything noteworthy that is not on the list.
Artificial Brain – Infrared Horizon
Here’s another one that fits into futuristic / sci-fi categorization. In addition to churning out top-notch modern death/tech metal, they haven’t let fans down with either of their first two album covers (the other being Labyrinth Constellation). Paolo Girardi did the debut’s cover, with Adam Burke handling this sophomore effort. Both are fantastic visuals in their own regard, but I believe this image tells more of a story I’d want to get wrapped up in.
What would bring me into the context of this painting is beyond me. Do I have this perspective as the lone human survivor of a robot holocaust? I don’t have a crystal ball to foresee that possibility. While I fear a robot uprising as much as the next paranoid daydreamer, there’s something about this image that tugs on my heart strings. That’s going on the assumption that he’s looking down mournfully at the remains of a dear friend, and not about to collect the head as some sick trophy like Dexter does with slides.
Besides, who wouldn’t want to follow the adventures of this cute-looking robot? Would we be treated to a space opera of the Stars Wars variety? Or is his plight closer to that of WALL-E? Astro Boy? Bender? ASTAR, the robot from Planet Danger?
Maybe I shouldn’t stereotype mechanical beings, and just enjoy the picture.
Benediction – Transcend The Rubicon
There are several cases of artwork from thrash and death metal albums from the late-80s to early-90s that really leave me in awe of the artist’s imagination, each with their own twist of creativity. This piece’s artist, Dan Seagrave, is among the more notable artists to emerge in that era, with Michael Whelan, Ed Repka, Kent Mathieu, and Dave Mckean being other examples.
This jumped out to me for a couple reasons. First, it was the only time that I’ve stumbled across Benediction albums when going to music stores, which still holds true to this day. Guttural vocalist Mark “Barney” Greenway may have already jumped ship to Napalm Death a few years prior to Transcend The Rubicon, but a quick sampling of the songs let me know the band was well worth listening to regardless. The second aspect of this album that appealed to me starts and ends with the cover. The scene is so captivating that it overshadows the band’s creative logo, which alone would be worth considering as an album cover centrepiece.
I haven’t the foggiest idea of how I would stumble across such impressive architecture. Is it from an underground society near the centre of the Earth, or from another planet altogether? If I did enough digging around, I could probably find out the sources of inspiration for this cover or others like it. I enjoy the mystique of it, and would truly want to explore the depths of such a location. There is no telling what lurks down any given passageway.
While that’s all I will share for now, I didn’t notice until after completing the list that it was strictly of hard rock and metal acts. Should I make a second installment, I’ll make efforts to branch out to artwork of other genres.