“The more albums there are over time the harder it will be for the albums to stand out.” That’s one way of looking at it. The other is that as time passes, so do visual tastes. (That’s why we don’t have a huge demand for Saturday Evening Post-esque images anymore.) It drives artists and clients to push the boundaries of what is album artwork, from the classic to the strange, from the futuristic to retro…
Wale: The Album About Nothing – Just because a design is a bit appalling or erratic doesn’t mean that it’s bad design. Nor does a safe design guarantee good album artwork. It seems an odd coupling, Wale (Pronounced Wall-eh) and Seinfeld, but there have been odder. “The Intro About Nothing,” much like the show, was anything but, and perhaps that’s what makes Wale’s album so interesting. While it wasn’t universal, what happened on Seinfeld was a Shakespearian take on modern life. Considering that, like the blues, rap tells the tale of life from a perspective that is often misunderstood but similarly Shakespearian.
[pullquote]Notice how the heaviness of Wale’s wardrobe almost immediately draws your attention. Since we read right to left Seinfeld comes next then the album title.[/pullquote]
Seinfeld’s interjections are a little odd, and without the context the Wale gives it, from a fan perspective Jerry Seinfeld’s role as narrator comes across as kitschy or cliché. Normally we wouldn’t go into the album’s music or the process involved in it, but in this case the design of the album is a direct reflection of the music (an uncommon styling).
[pullquote]Not only does the lighter background help the hierarchy but it would allow the artist to bring attention to the most important graffiti.[/pullquote]
The Album About Nothing is intriguing, and the two different covers evoke different thoughts. The first image struggles to convey its roots with a background that is a bit to busy to include both Wale and Seinfeld, not to mention his name and the title of the album. It’s very close to having a strong composition but each element is fighting for attention. It’s an interesting cover that with a few simple changes might have been fantastic. Softening or blurring the background graffiti would have allowed both the name and men to stand out as #1 and #2 in the hierarchy, as they should.
The second sample of the album artwork has an entirely different look. There is a clear hierarchy here: Normally color in a black and white environment would be the first thing you notice, but because of the deep contrast and the composition of the layout, Wale the man, not the name, is the most powerful element of the piece. Notice how the table perspective leads your eye to Wale on one side and to the horizontal line on the other, which, because the seat is empty, leads you back to Wale. That horizontal line also keeps you from noticing the color first. It’s like a wall that you can’t get past unless you try.
The strategic placement of the condiments and cup also keeps your eye coming back to Wale. The name of the album brings you to the condiments, which create a hard vertical line that pushes you to him and, conversely, because the seat is empty again, we are drawn to Wale. One empty seat can do and imply so much. Of the two covers the second is so much more powerful, and, as album art goes, more thought-out. Bonus: Wale and Jerry together. Nice!
Blur: The Magic Whip – So, Blur’s album cover is a little odd to be sure–and it’s a bit different than we normally tackle–but it is nonetheless a very cool cover. First, you have some very simple lines that all connect, keeping your eye moving through the design.
Actually, make that second. First is that Blur’s artist decided to take a route that many bands wouldn’t have the guts to try: no photo of themselves. And unless you can read Chinese, I doubt you’d know what it says. It makes it, for our purposes, ambiguous. (It literally says BLUR: MAGIC WHIP.) Ice cream is universal; not knowing what an image is or about is sometimes more intriguing than any amount of direct advertising. Okay, back to the lines! Simple and familiar shapes despite the contents will always help designs. Here we have a “Z” rotated, causing our eyes to move in a pattern that we’ve known since we were kids.
To outside observers we must look insane. We need the familiar to stay grounded but we crave the unique, strange, and mysterious. Even as adults we retain our curiosity; it’s just tempered with sensibility. (I think.) Speaking of the familiar…
Stealing Sheep: Not Real – Not Real uses bright vivid colors to move your eye all over the design but in ways that make sense. [pullquote]How many people are in this photo? What angle did they shoot it at?! SO MANY LEGS! [/pullquote]The placement of the limbs makes sense in the way it connects and imitates the title itself. The green sleeve mimics the stems of the N and R but also frames the title with the help of crooks in the wrist and shoulder. Similarly the pink leg connects the end of “NOT” to the start of “REAL,” the ankle bending at the T to follow the cross bar, while the knee lands squarely in the bowl of the “R.”
The thing that really brings the design together is the familiarity of human anatomy. If they were just colors and shapes the design wouldn’t be nearly as successful. This is a fantastic example of a design that keeps you looking and finding something new and interesting with each viewing.
Fall Out Boy: American Beauty/American Psycho – I have no doubt there’s a story behind the title, but frankly, the artistic value of this cover is lessened by almost every element. First, the name and title of the album is about the furthest from maximum effort that you could be. What is that, Copperplate? Seriously? That is, however, the least of my beefs. I admit to feeling quite strongly about the face paint. Is that supposed to evoke some sort of visceral reaction? Like, “Oh no, he’s a nice white kid with dark inner demons!”
[pullquote]If you feel like you really need the title and band name on there, try something a little more interesting. There’s something to be said for clean and classic, but there’s a line between that and lazy and boring. [/pullquote]One thing my mentor taught me was that beating people over the head with a hammer was wrong. (Not literally, you goon.) The photograph by itself would have been infinitely more powerful. Its composition is fantastic, with leading lines that take you exactly where you need to go. We all have darkness that resides within us; seeing him without the face paint would have given us something that we are all more accustomed to: looking in the mirror and wondering about the person looking back at us. The kid’s face says it all; it’s a look we are all to familiar with. [pullquote]With even the quickest fix to the face (yes I know it looks plastic; it’s not the original photo! you can see that the image by itself is striking and tells so much more than the face paint.
[/pullquote] Yes, a little dark and deep, but from the title of the album, I assume it’s supposed to be. The face paint is nothing but distracting; in many ways you stop seeing the photo at all. There is only the face paint! All hail the face paint! Wait, where was I? Oh yes: You did wrong Fall Out Boy, which wouldn’t be the first time. I’ve listened to a few of your albums.