No need for a grandiose introduction on this post. Given that I’ve gone down this road six times before (see volumes I, II, III, IV, V, and VI of this series), I’ll get right to the heart of the matter and go over five additional albums and their covers, continuing to explore various ways musicians have branded and re-branded their recordings over the years.
Porcupine Tree – Stupid Dream
When I saw Porcupine Tree on their Closure/Continuation tour, this 1999 album was as far back into their catalog they played with the album-opening “Even Less”. It kind of makes sense, as you could mark is as the point they left their more psychedelic and extended jam tracks behind, joined a new record label (Snapper), and made songs that were more direct and a bit more pop-oriented yet nonetheless still progressive-minded.
The initial release of Stupid Dream came with the following cover.
Definitely not a sell-out record (if you believe in that sort of thing), but the factory-based imagery shows them in the preparatory stage towards selling something. An interview with Aural Innovations (partially transcribed in Rich Wilson’s Time Flies: The Story of Porcupine Tree) had band leader Steven Wilson admitting that “it’s completely at odds with the music”, but the manner at which they arrived at the cover came out of frustration he felt at times over the music industry and that many in the industry viewed what musicians created as product as opposed to art. Wilson had initially wanted a photo of an electricity pylon in the desert to be the cover, but management told him the idea was ‘bland and cliched’.
The sleeve design was by Carl Glover, with Robert Harding receiving credit for the cover photo. Perhaps best known for his visual work for Marillion, Glover also had prior collaboration with Wilson on two other music projects of his (No-Man and Bass Communion). Harding has his work featured on many compilation albums as well as the works of Terry Oldfield (Mike Oldfield’s older brother), The Space Brothers, and Omni Trio.
Without seeing Steven Wilson’s initial idea come to light, which I’d agree would have seemed a bit too ordinary for a cover image, this one came out quite well. Some elements of this are reminiscent to me of Fripp and Eno’s No Pussyfooting cover, with the mirrored image of the photo’s participants and the muted colours in a sterile environment, but it’s not likely you’d ever confuse the two. Relating to the ‘at odds’ proclamation by the band leader, perhaps the overly-dressed state of the factory worker in hazmat gear is one hint of this music being a step or two more potent than what normally comes down the conveyor belt.
Future releases of the album sleeve appeared as below, showing a person in white hazmat clothing picking up one of the discs and holding it in front of their face as if giving it a closer inspection.
Like the original, these covers do more to provoke than outright wow the viewer with complexity and detail. No matter the edition, each aptly gets the point across. These editions were crafted by Lasse Hoile, a photographer that the band pretty much began using exclusively at the time for imagery on various physical releases. Hoile also went on to do much of the imagery for Wilson’s solo albums, and was previously the vocalist for Panzerchrist (a band for which he also did artwork). Whether or not this update was to align the album’s look with their current visual direction or they didn’t have access to the original photography at the time of the re-release, I’m uncertain. The 2006 version of Stupid Dream that I have in my collection (the image on the left featuring the upside-down title) also included a DVD-Audio of the album, so a closer/zoomed-in shot of the disc feels more appropriate as the additional format allows for an alternative audio perspective. A further away shot showing the CD a bit smaller and grasped with two hands (the image on the right) was on vinyl editions. I wonder if consideration was ever made to re-stage the cover with someone holding up a record, kind of like how Public Image Ltd. re-branded their 1986 album based on the format (titled album for vinyl record, compact disc for CD, and cassette for the audio cassette).
With Stupid Dream consistently hailed as one of Porcupine Tree’s top-rated albums across websites such as RateYourMusic.com, SputnikMusic.com. and AlbumOfTheYear.org, those depicted quality control experts can lay indirect claim to making the album the success it is.
Booker Ervin – That’s It!
Due to the premature end to his life at just 39 years of age due to kidney failure, I don’t feel Booker Ervin is as recognized as he should be. Sure, he did have a productive stint in Charles Mingus’ band that included the eventual Grammy Hall of Fame album Mingus Ah Um, but he created many solo works in parallel to that time and beyond that seem to fly relatively under the radar. By my count, Booker had at least seventeen records as leader or co-leader in a nine-year stretch, many of which even I admit to needing to explore. Outside of The Freedom Book, The Trance, and the album whose cover I’m about to feature, I’m all ears as to where next to proceed with Booker.
The third of his solo albums, That’s It!, was initially released by Candid Records. Visually, it appeared in record shops as below.
The exclamation point on a line by itself isn’t too conventional, but I feel the design flows better in this manner as opposed to leaving it appended to the previous word. My mind instantly jumps to the Impulse Records logo, though a record label can hardly take sole claim of a piece of punctuation. The matching of colour between the exclamation mark and his name gives another twist, with Ervin being the one to be excited about (Booker Ervin!) rather than “That’s It!” being used as either a) what one would say when they make a sudden discovery, or b) a threat as if someone’s patience was worn and their last nerve was struck (like to scare-straight some overly-rambunctious children, or a road rage flare-up in reaction to a dangerous driver).
That’s not the best insight on my behalf, but jazz covers from this era are often either all about the photo of the bandleader or the use of fonts and colours, both aspects of which are visually pleasing to me. I’m not certain who gets credit for the graphics, but Frank Gauna is listed on the back as the photographer. He’s got hundreds of visual credits currently up on Discogs, including work on recordings by The Everly Brothers, Clark Terry, and Herbie Mann.
Barnaby Records would re-release the album, which is the version I happen to have in my collection.
Ron Coro did this cover design, and the photo was yet again from Frank Gauna’s portfolio. Among Coro’s design work in the music industry, check out self-titled albums of Taj Mahal and Johnny Winter, plus the Johnny Cash compilation This Is Johnny Cash, for some of his bigger credits. Given that Discogs lists the release date of this edition as 1970, I’ve got to wonder if this was rushed to get in stores because it happens to be the same year that Ervin died. The essay on the back mentions this fact, but if we are giving them the benefit of the doubt, the release timeline could very well have been coincidental.
I mainly bring up the closeness to Ervin’s passing based on my disappointment in the cover. I think that green and purple are often a bad pairing. Just about the only case I can think of where the colours worked favourably was with the Milwaukee Bucks, but they didn’t really use the purple all that much outside of the ‘90s. Maybe that’s it! I’m too much of a ‘90s kid, so that colour balance is triggering bad memories of that Barney & Friends show. In particular, it’s reminding me of the character Baby Bop, which ironically would make a fitting nickname for a young jazz musician. The packaging doesn’t look like it was all that thought out, but in defense of Barnaby Records, it’s not as if they only chose the recently deceased. Other records would be released in a similar format by the label, with albums by Cecil Taylor and Abbey Lincoln getting similar reissues.
Forbidden – Distortion
The first two albums by Forbidden (Forbidden Evil and Twisted Into Form) are hailed as classics in the thrash metal genre, but the group’s third album Distortion I believe is deserving of more love that it receives. It’s a very heavy album that maintains the interesting riffing and lead work the band was known for, a more lower-end vocal delivery this time around from Russ Anderson, and Steve Jacobs steps in quite well for the departing Paul Bostaph (who joined Slayer). Taking a deep dive into this album would make for a fun article in itself, but for now I’m sticking to the album’s visual presentation.
Some copies of the album, including my copy, look like the following:
A digipak version was released in the same year on the same label (GUN Records) with what looks to have featured a different cover over top of this one, though I’m leaving it out of the discussion as I haven’t seen it in good enough quality to pass judgment. The above cover that most would have seen in 1994 was illustrated by Kent Mathieu. He not only did the covers of their first two albums and their comeback Omega Wave, his work was seen heavily across many other notable metal acts of the day such as Heathen, Possessed, and Exhorder. I like what it’s striving for despite it being somewhat cluttered in a way I find it hard to focus the eye on any one portion of the scene. Still, a densely packed image seems to be the point, adding to the claustrophobia and panic in this street shot. There may also be ties to the lyrics that I’m not picking up on, with possibly the most glaring example being “Undertaker” because of the presence of those ominous pallbearers transporting a casket.
Distortion was re-released in 1997 by Fierce / Mayhem Records, sporting a significantly different face.
The aesthetics of this 1997 edition make for a better fit, with the theme of static and visible noise patterns continuing throughout the liner notes. Gabe Mera is the credited artist here, with a handful of other design and layout work largely in the hard rock and metal genres that includes Crisis, Enuff Z’Nuff, and Reign.
You could argue it has more of an industrial vibe or is closer to the nu-metal that was exploding a few short years after the initial album release, but effective art is effective art. The band were expanding their sound at this stage, and this cover reflects that. You could use something like this on an album cover today. It’s that sharp, and holds up real-well! In fact, I have this set as the thumbnail of the album in my computer’s media library for the sake of variety, and I can always pull the CD off the shelf to look at the original. Interestingly enough, you could say that Russ Anderson’s expanded use of vocal effects and techniques give the image some further meaning, though I’d wager that those teeth don’t belong to him.
Yet another version came out from Massacre Records and a few other unofficial releases.
This one doesn’t quite pop for me. A bit less polished and professional, even if looking at font selection on both the cover as well as song titles and lyrics. In my defense, it could be that I haven’t seen a high-quality scan. The various images remind me of cut-scenes and characters from Playstation and Nintendo 64 video games, such as (perhaps bringing this up since my brother has been playing it lately) Shadow Man. In that sense, it strikes a ‘90s nostalgia itch of a sort, but it hasn’t aged terribly well.
Stephen Kasner, who unfortunately passed away at just 49, was the cover artist this time. While I’m not as inspired by this cover, it’s only fair for me to note that he has some far superior work under his name as visual artist. He was also a member of Blood Fovntains and Irons. Check out his covers of Rotting Christ’s Triarchy of the Lost Lovers, Marduk’s Glorification, and KEN Mode’s Reprisal, not to mention Forbidden’s next album Green, which I feel is a step up on a similar layout style to his take on Distortion.
Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force – Marching Out
Before I get into this cover, I just learned that one Lester Claypool engineered this album, and no, that’s not the bassist/vocalist of Primus. So do not, I repeat, do NOT expect the bass to be a prominent feature of this album. With all due respect to Marcel Jacob’s playing here, Yngwie naturally builds his compositions from the guitar outward, and Lester (nor Les) couldn’t do anything to change that approach.
The bulk of regions of the world, including my native Canada, received Marching Out with this cover.
What can be said about this one? Not a whole lot present but Yngwie in his glory, building up a good deal of perspiration from his high notes-per-minute playing. Or is it that simple? Remember that last we left him on his debut Rising Force, he began his solo career on a cliffhanger, with an arm emerging from a flaming inferno gripping his guitar. This is a man that has his priorities straight in emergency situations: women, children, and Fender Stratocasters first! This ‘sequel’ shows him unscathed, playing what looks to be the very same guitar. Not too bad a photo, possibly a bit too tightly cropped, but at least it gave us avid music listeners some closure. Credit for this comforting shot goes to photographer P.G. Brunelli, who worked largely in the metal community with acts such as Samson, Heavy Pettin, and Testament (I always loved his stage pic from the Live At Eindhoven cover).
The Americans got another cover.
I think that the bulk of the world got robbed here. As far as rock or metal covers featuring the artist on the cover rather than a painting or other visual concept, give me one like this with some good stage presence. I suppose this may cause come confusion as to whether or not it is a live album rather than studio-recorded, but what certainty is there that any particular cover belongs to a studio album? Does the cover need to have pictures of the band surrounded by walls of sound-proofing, the singer with a headphone to his ears, or the pile of hair the producer pulled out of his head out of frustration trying to reign in young and rowdy musicians? No. A photo this good I wouldn’t want to tuck away and forget about. Thankfully, the image was also used on a teaser maxi-single titled Studio/Live ‘85 that was limited to European and Japanese markets, so it did get around in other forms.
There’s also a third variant that came out in Japan and a few other Asian countries that went off-script.
The main difference here is that they chose not to show the Swede at all on the front. It looks like the guitar remains, but it’s so clad in shadows that it’s difficult to determine if it’s identical to his exact model. I realize that sex sells, but there’s nothing particularly sexy about this cover. I imagine that would be what they are going for by using a woman as a body model. It’s not as if I’m rating the woman’s physique or anything. I just think it’s a poorly staged photo for its purpose. While Malmsteen always gives his hands a significant workout in his performances, this cover seems more appropriate for an exercise video. Pop a Thigh-Master or some resistance bands in her hands, throw some better lighting on her, and this could have helped sell such wares better.
It just seems like shoe-horning a woman in to move albums (see Al Di Meola’s Kiss My Axe cover for another example). How would this move more albums? I’m curious what the consensus of the Japanese community would be regarding which of the three they’d prefer. I’d be stunned if the third was the winner. If you’re going to feature an attractive woman on a neoclassical power-metal album cover, treat it like was the front of Heavy Metal magazine or something you’d airbrush onto the side of a van and at least have some fun with it. The error would be partially corrected on his next album. Despite the fact that the only person with gorgeous long locks of hair on Trilogy was Yngwie himself, it had the right idea.
Tears For Fears – The Hurting
With their debut album, The Hurting, Tears For Fears got out of the starting gate hot, peaking at the top of the UK Albums chart in 1983. Surprisingly, they did so with a rather bleak presentation and tone. Look no further than its original cover image.
As good a reflection on the title as anything. The child’s anguished, cradled pose is heightened by the fact he sits alone in nothing but vast whiteness. My inner Trekkie mind drifts to the TNG episode “Tapestry”, but the white space does tend to be used heavily in representing the start of the afterlife. No matter if this was the intent, I think to a child missing his parents, be it temporary or permanently. It’s a powerful image in its simplicity. The cover photo was taken by Peter Ashworth. He has several hundred visual credits in music of which you can sift through, with some of the more famous to his name including Eurythmics’ Touch, Tina Turner’s Private Dancer, and Soft Cell’s Non Stop Ecstatic Dancing.
Depending on where you live, you may be more accustomed to seeing The Hurting housed in this tan sleeve.
It’s interesting that the same typeface is used on each version, but the rest has changed visually. Thematically, it still seems right on the money. There’s a sense that these two (band members Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith) are in deep reflection and hurt in their own right. If I can gather anything from the lyrics of the title track and the album’s loose themes of child abuse and depression, there’s no telling what could be on their minds without delving too deep into their personal histories.
Ashford got credit yet again, but the husband and wife duo of Davies and Starr had inner sleeve photography credit across the album’s variants (which features a near-identical though inverted and black and white shot). They also largely have a British client base, with notable images in the likes of Robert Plant’s Now and Zen, Pete Townshend’s All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, and The Specials’ self-titled debut album. I believe the mix-up is due to an oversight where the same liner notes were carried over. This alternate cover was used in a sizable amount of markets upon the initial release, though the cover with the boy on it would be the primary version in the great majority of reissues over the years. If we are to take the white cover as its ‘proper’ cover, it would be the last one not to picture Roland or Curt on it until 1995’s Raoul and the Kings of Spain.
The band would back away from the darker themes somewhat on their next album, Songs from the Big Chair, as Roland would explain at the time in an interview with music journalist Lisa Robinson that “it doesn’t represent what we are like as people” in terms of their personalities. Oddly enough, the biggest hit on the album, “Everybody Wants to Rule The World”, has lines that allude strongly to the Cold War and authoritarianism. That seems like a lateral move to me, but I’m just the listener.