Alternate Album Cover Art V: The (Not-So) Final Frontier

Sorry, I couldn’t help but sneak a Star Trek reference into the title. There’s plenty of these cases to go over. If you’re not sure what I do with these things, I basically explore albums from various genres and highlight artists that have made bold, interesting, pointless, well-needed, or idiotic changes to their album art as they re-release them to the public or to different markets around the world.

In case you want to see my previous entries of this nature, links are below:

Part 1 

Part 2

Part 3 

Part 4 

Now, to boldly go onward with six more albums from five different artists…

 

Fish – Internal Exile

I’m starting to go beyond what’s in my own collection and look at music that is on my radar, and this is one such album. I’d love for this album to get reissued because when I see it selling on the second-hand market, I’m often in for a rude awakening. I saw it peak at over a thousand dollars on Amazon once! Who prices these things?

When he left Marillion after their Clutching At Straws albums, Fish (birth name: Derek William Dick) took another key piece of the group’s identity with him, visual artist Mark Wilkinson. Marillion bounced back strongly with new front-man Steve Hogarth (aka “h”) and shifted to other cover art explorations, but if I’m honest, it was Wilkinson’s illustrations that first drew me to the band. His creations were alluring to me in that they would manage to capture both the warmth and the darker aspects of humanity, sometimes within the same photo. Similar to another popular ‘80s band in Iron Maiden (whom Wilkinson would work with later in their career) with their artist Derek Riggs, Marillion wouldn’t limit Wilkinson’s contributions to album covers, with many of their singles showing artwork as provocative as the full-length (see “Assassing” and “Kayleigh” for examples).

Anyway, Fish, now swimming alone, featured Wilkinson’s art prominently on his second solo album Internal Exile.

 

 

On this cover, Fish is surrounded by several different scenes. In some instances, it is difficult to tell where each concept begins and ends, but I think that’s part of the charm. Not being familiar with the material apart from hearing a few songs, I’d think that the images making up the framing collage are pulled from discussions between Fish and Mark Wilkinson about the lyric’s themes, but I haven’t had any luck locating an interview relating to the cover art. The character on the left with the blade in his hand looks much like the jester displayed across much of the Wilkinson Marillion artwork, though here he has added some tartan to his wardrobe.

What was on the cover of the US version? Fish again, but not much else.

 

I feel that the American market got a little short-changed here. I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with this cover, but we’ve already seen what they missed out on. Did they think the original had a bit too much going on? At least his logo was kept in-tact, and not switched for a dime-a-dozen typeface instead. In defense of the US cover, this was a time where companies were moving away from releasing records and mostly releasing CDs and cassette tapes. The original image in CD dimensions wouldn’t be bad, but I could understand that you may need to rethink the layout in casstee tape packaging. Still, I’d have preferred to see this photo on the back or the inside of the packaging rather than the front.

Did they think this unique cover would help break Fish as a solo artist in the States? Marillion never achieved mainstream popularity there either, so it’s possible (but I’d think highly unlikely) that the visual art style of Mark Wilkinson didn’t appeal to music consumers there. It’s a good think CDs aren’t region-coded like DVDs or Blu-rays because I’m sure the majority of Fish fans in the American market would prefer to track down the original version.

 

Archie Shepp – Poem For Malcolm

Here’s an album I managed to pick up in 2020. It wasn’t an original pressing, but I’ll start with showing what the cover looked like when it was first released in 1969.

 

 

As you can see, the original white cover with a picture of Shepp in the centre keeps things rather basic. It doesn’t seem particularly noteworthy, but keep in mind that the French record label BYG/Actuel liked to keep uniformity between albums they were releasing at the time. I can really admire that. If a record collector was to start a collection of each of the label’s releases, it would look rather smart on their shelf to have matching spines lined in chronological order. Very encyclopedic of them! It sends the message that they believe in all the musicians on their label, and that each work is an essential listen. As a minor note, there was one version of this album which looked identical to the one above, but Shepp’s photo was tinted in orange. I have a feeling that version may be a rare printing error since I see nobody reselling it.

Speaking of errors, the main thing you may have caught from this cover is that Malcolm is spelled without the second l. The title track of this album is in tribute to civil rights icon Malcolm X, so it seems that this was a typo. It’s very much possible that this mistake was not caught due to cultural differences since I wouldn’t think that Malcolm is a common name in France, then or now. Since several copies of the album had Malcolm’s correct spelling on the record sticker on both sides of the vinyl, this further points to it being an error rather than stylistically deciding not to print the ‘silent’ l. The album has since been reissued several times on the same label and with the same cover. No change was ever made to “Malcom”, oddly enough.

Other labels did distribute Poem For Malcolm at different times. It was re-released in 1982 by Affinity in a black sleeve with bold text and an even smaller picture of Shepp, but it doesn’t really warrant much discussion. In fact, it must be fairly uncommon since most copies I’ve spotted in image searches seem to be of the exact same photo.

 

 

There it is. Talk about it all you want because I’m not going to.

The copy I own comes from the Giants of Jazz label, and contains a bit more substance.

 

 

The use of newspaper clippings of major stories in Malcolm X’s life gives a tie-in to the subject matter, which I’d consider to be an improvement on the original in spite of enjoying Actuel’s consistency in maintaining a motif album-to-album. The odd part about the reissue is that they flipped the track order, with the first of the two tracks being “Rain Forrest / Oleo” (yes, this one made a different misspelling) and closing with the combined “Mamarose / Poem for Malcolm”. I hate when they do that!

Were they the most noteworthy headlines or articles in his lifetime (his assassination aside)? A person more familiar with his public history may know, and among those it still may depend on who you ask, but this nonetheless pops more visually than the Affinity edition at the very least. The headlines are visible and the publications and dates are as well, which is good from a historical standpoint so further research can be made by the listener that is less familiar with Malcolm X’s history. Not that there’s a shortage of information about the man out there, but I appreciate that nonetheless.

While I’m talking about Archie Shepp, I was saddened to learn while researching this article that his music was among the work that was destroyed in 2008 Universal fire. While this album doesn’t seem to be regarded among his best work, and I’m not completely sure which of his recordings were or were not impacted, this is nonetheless a tragedy for any music to simply disappear. It’s an unfortunate reminder for musicians out there to keep possession of their master recordings if possible since you may take more protective measures of your own material if you act as its guardian.

 

Opeth – Ghost Reveries and Watershed

Remember the days where file-sharing services like Napster were popping up all over the internet? I never spent much time there, but I still compiled my fair share of MP3s I’d find on the internet of different metal bands onto CD-Rs using whatever record label or artist would share them on their own sites, with a few not-so-kosher site thrown into the mix occasionally. I wish I still had those discs so I could have give those songs another spin. Anyway, it was on one of these custom discs on which my brother and I chose to load the first song we’d ever heard by Swedish metal band Opeth (the epic “Deliverance”). We quickly purchased a few of their albums, but their first album that was released after we became fans was Ghost Reveries. From the moment we saw the video for “The Grand Conjuration”, we knew it would not disappoint.

Ghost Reveries came with two different covers. The initial release is on the left, and the special edition release is on the right.

 

 

The thing that used to really bother me about Roadrunner Records was that they’d release an artist’s album, and then turn around months later and release deluxe editions of the album with an accompanying DVD or bonus tracks (sometimes included on a second CD). This was rectified when Watershed was released when they decided to release the standard and special editions simultaneously. Opeth may have pressured the label to do it this way, as I’m sure if their fans were like me, they would complain about having to buy the same album a second time after such little passage of time.

 

 

Both versions of Ghost Reveries and Watershed, from a thematic standpoint, work well in tandem. Looking over the original Ghost Reveries cover and the remaining inner visuals (created by long-time collaborator Travis Smith), it captures bandleader Mikael Akerfeldt’s general occult concept with gothic imagery straight out of a horror movie. The mysterious figure in the background of the original cover could very well have several leather-bound books looking much like the second version of the cover. Since demonic possession is one of the themes, this could obviously be thought of as a Bible from which you could quote scripture to drive away evil spirits.

The Watershed covers, once again Travis Smith creations, shows yet another shadowy figure, this time seated at a desk. The inner photography shows a person reading a letter, as well as showing excerpts from the letter and a photograph that was contained within the envelope. This makes perfect sense for this expanded version of the album to be contained in envelope-style packaging. When I first bought this, a quick glance made me think that the person pictured on the stamp was the group’s bassist Martin Mendez. It’s apparently every member of Opeth’s face mashed up together. Dubbed “Jorge”, his photo is also shown framed on a desk in the CD sleeve in the special edition. I’m not sure why this person would be on the stamp and a person’s desk because this Jorge fellow definitely doesn’t look photogenic enough to be a politician or anyone else normally shown on stamps.

 

The Pineapple Thief – Little Man

Here’s one of the last bands I saw in concert before COVID-19 reached my neck of the woods. They seem to finally be getting the attention they deserve, with the addition of Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree, King Crimson) on drums helping to direct more eyes and ears in their direction. I’ve admired the group for years, with my first purchase being Someone Here Is Missing in 2010, soon backtracking to buy Little Man.

 

 

There’s not much explanation needed for this cover. Based off the title alone or your own eyes, you can surmise that these are a child’s footprints. These could just as easily have been adult footprints as well since they do line up with the typical proportions, and not many would even question it. The “For Felix” dedication found beneath a hand print on the back cover lead me to confirming that these represented a child with that name. Tragically, I just learned Felix was the son of of the group’s main songwriter and lead vocalist Bruce Soord, who died following a premature birth. The text the band’s name uses makes its first album appearance here and it would be brought back on their next albums What We Have Sown and Tightly Unwound. This cover isn’t particularly eye-catching, but not all covers need to be dense works with intricate detail.

This original cover was done by Simon Evans. Discogs currently lists three art credits for musicians, two of which were Pineapple Thief albums and the other by English folk artist Chris Wood. With little apparently under his name in the music world, my initial guess was that Evans was a local artist and perhaps a more affordable option (not that this should discredit his work at all). Now knowing of the personal circumstances regarding Soord’s family, that theory of mine was quickly disregarded, and view this simply as an appropriate and intimate memorial.

Little Man was re-mixed and re-issued on Kscope once the band was beginning to get more career traction. The cover was remarkably different.

 

 

Here we have a winter scene showing a swing-set frame with the swings removed. I always found something melancholic about it, but I can’t help but love the look of fields covered in snow in just about any case. I see it a bit like seasonal depression summed up in an image, but knowing what I know now, could easily be representational of a lost childhood. I think this one is actually an improvement while driving the same idea across. There’s a song on Little Man called “November” that I still think is among their greatest pieces in spite of its stripped-down structure that I associate most with this cover. Granted, I rarely see blankets of snow like that in November in my area of Canada.

This new imagery was created, or “refreshed” as the liner notes specify, by Scott Robinson. He has been a frequent visual collaborator with the band and Bruce Soord since they began their association with Kscope. Robinson’s talents can also be seen through many of the releases by Anathema, where he is sometimes listed simply as “Scott from Kscope”, though he has made contributions outside of the label. On his personal website, Robinson credits the photography on Little Man to Joe Del Fuco, with himself listed as designer. Del Fuco has numerous album credits, mostly with artists associated with progressive rock such as Steven Wilson and Steve Hackett, but his site showcases a range of photography ranging across many aspects of life and nature. His credit may be for the inner photography rather than the exterior, but no matter who is most responsible for the change in direction, I believe it was the right decision.

The booklet contains the original cover on its back. If you so prefer, you could ditch the slipcase, and reverse the book in the jewel case when displaying it on your shelf. It may not match with the back cover, which is a whole other issue together, but at least you have options.

 

Randy Coven – Funk Me Tender

I’m plucking the last one out of relative obscurity since I have distinct memories of when I first learned of the now-late bassist Randy Coven. My dad had found a stack of old issues of (who later abbreviated to Guitar magazine) and some Guitar Player magazines at an auction, and brought them home for my brother and I to enjoy. I still like flipping through both guitar magazines, but was drawn more at the time to Guitar for the Practicing Musician since it had more pages in colour and transcribed songs and lessons using tabulature rather than standard music notation. The magazine helped introduce us to the so-called “shred” phenomenon, popularized by the highly-technical hard rock and metal guitarists that were emerging in the mid-to-late 80s like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. Lesser-known players such as Vinnie Moore, Paul Gilbert, and Tony MacAlpine were featured in these magazines, and eventually I saw mention of guys like Billy Sheehan and Stu Hamm. Many of the bass players discussed, while great talents, didn’t seem to have their own solo albums like the guitarists did.

Then I saw an advertisement for Randy Coven’s Funk Me Tender.

A bass player that shreds? That sounded pretty cool to me. Alex could have his guitarists, and I (the bass-paying twin) could focus on finding these bassists, who usually serve as supporting cast and not the main star. Keep in mind that this was before I was into jazz or fusion, a genre from which I would later find countless bass heroes. As anxious as I was to hear what he sounded like, it would take me roughly four or five more years before I located a copy of Funk Me Tender at a local flea market.

The cover was not at all what I was expecting.

 

 

I don’t listen to the record that often, and I erroneously keep thinking that the back cover was what was used as the front. It looked a bit amateur, featuring Randy Coven and his band mates sitting in lawn chairs, one of whom I still maintain looks like comedian Fred Armisen. Fortunately, the above image (the original 1985 version), is what I was treated to. I’ll go into detail about it in a bit.

Here’s the one that I was expecting based off the advertisement.

 

 

It makes sense that I saw this one first because Guitar Recordings was the magazine’s own label on which they would promote many of the more underground technically-proficient musicians of the time. I imagine this would have given Coven a wider audience than he would have seen when the album debuted four years earlier on the TPL Records label. This repackaging also included the bonus track “Chopped Sewage”

You win some and lose some when buying albums with different covers, and in this case I feel that I easily came out the victor. The first cover wasn’t pulled from some uninspired, by-the-numbers photo shoot, and his pants didn’t have more holes than his bass has frets. You’ve got to sell albums of this nature like you’d sell a comic book. Show someone looking larger than life, beating his instrument into submission with his masterful note selection. As we see with Coven, loosening a string to exaggerate his bass domination, making him look like The Incredible Hulk on a four-string, works to great effect. We also get the hint of sexuality lingering in the background with the out-of-focus woman in a revealing nightgown, which doesn’t hurt. I can’t tell you if Randy Coven actually noticed she was there, mind you.

The newer cover isn’t nearly bad enough to enter a worst album covers discussion, but when I see covers like this in general, I just chuckle. But coming from a guy that just praised a cover that probably didn’t take much more time to conceive, take my opinion with a grain of salt. 

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