Monday, October 28, 2002

THEORIES AND WRAPPERS: We've got a theory that the music industry moved from drug of choice being spliff in the 60's to the current obsession with cocaine as a result in changing format sizes. While the large cardboard area offered by a 12" vinyl album package gave plenty of room for the preparation of a joint (or - as Justin Timberlake tremulously reveals they're known - a "blunt"), the smaller jewel case of a cd is just right for chopping up a line.
Whatever, the shift to smaller boxes has been accompanied for certain by a decline in the quality of cover art, and that's undeniable. Rather than seize the challenge of trying to say as much in a smaller space, designers have repeatedly given up, and fallen back on either pretending they've got 144 square inches to play with, and not bothering that the consumer can't see the detail (hey, if they're that interested, they can go look at the poster in the shop, right?) or else fallen back on an over-simplistic form of design which makes Windows 95 icons look well-thought-out.

With this in mind, No Rock is proud to present this week's UK Album Chart reviewed solely on the basis of the sleeve image.

1 - Foo Fighters - One By One Image
After the run-up campaign ("Announcement. The new album from the Foo Fighters", etc, in the style of a newspaper small ad) we'd had hopes the sleeve might have been similar, with something a bit Bonzo Dog Doo Dadist like "This is the new album from the Foo Fighters" typed across the front. Instead, there's a woodcut effect, with some jungle-like foliage appearing to form a heart-shape. It says more "ITV Drama Premiere" than "yes, I'm on that Nirvana album, too, but you'd be better off with this one."

2 - Nelly - Nellyville image
Big close up of Nelly's face. He's wearing that bloody sticking plaster. Do you think his brother asked him to do that? Or that he'd rather Nelly just shut up about him being inside, as it'll hamper his chances when he gets released and goes for a job at the Alabaster Eaterie that the whole world now knows that he's done porridge? Anyway, the whole picture has been ineptly photoshopped, with the end sepia-tinged rsult making it look as if Nelly has stuck his head through one of those things you get at the seaside, where you pop your head in a hole and have your photo taken looking like a body builder. The Parental Advisory sticker is bigger than the Jailed Brother sticker.

3 - Human Conditions - Richard Ashcroft image
Straight from the school of "did you lose the dimensions of a CD booklet", this is the sort of doodle that would look more impressive blown up. Richard's head is shown side-on, like a keyhole, through which a huddle of other images are, almost literaly, glowing. The idea is, we think, to say that many things, many journeys, many parts make a man. Sadly, it comes across more as a pretentious attempt to buy the world a coke.

4 - Will Young - From Now On image
Perhaps the curious combination of bad 70's shirt and bad, bad 70's wallpaper is some misguided attempt to cash-in on the retro chic offered by a Firefighter's strike - "seriously, Will, it's going to be 1977 all over again before you know it. Now, of course, we can't scare away points by punking you up, so we thought "bland, asexual bloke singing songs on telly on a Saturday night" and came up with Val Doonican..."

5 - S Club Juniors - Together image
This must be a tricky one to carry off. How do you pitch an album by a bunch of tots into a market that's topped by gynacological pictures of Christina, and yet not make it look like you're appealing to the Gary Glitter market? The answer seems to have been to take the S Club Juniors for a happy meal, grab a snap of them with a disposable, and stick that on the album. Presumably the ever-present threat of the sudden development of testicles and/or teenage strop hormones at any moment would have made investment in an expensive photo shoot too risky to consider. The result looks so cheesey even Five Star would probably have rejected it.

6 - Feeder - Comfort In Sound image
Feeder used to go for big, bright, clunky cover images, very robot-wars friendly. Now, with one of them dead, the music's got darker and more personal, and the artwork has got more sober with it. Having a badly-drawn angel on the front could be seen as just a step away from putting a sticker on the front saying "One of us died. Please buy generously", and the fact the angel is female doesn't help. The music may struggle to say things that need to be said; perhaps something plainer for the cover art may have acknowledged the struggle rather than attempted to clone the emotions?

7- Rolling Stones - Forty Licks image
A very long time ago, the now-defunct Samantha fanzine ran an angry article about bands who changed their logos (presumably the writer was upset at the knock on costs involved in updating the back of maths books, re-biroing on army surplus bags and the time it actually takes to chip tipp-ex off a Doc Marten in order to paint on the new look.) The trouble with consistency , though, is that some bands wind up with an image that looks rubbish. The Rolling Stones is a case in point. The lips, the tongue - yes, I'm sure it was a great moment of inspiration, but didn't anyone stop to think that however many years later, they'd still be having to work with something that a commercial organisation would have abandoned years since. It reminds me of nothing so much as that strange little cartoon character Goodyear used to have flogging their tyres back when Will Young's shirt would have been fashionable. I hated that, too, but at least Goodyear realised that whatever it was - a moose on wheels? - made them look shabby and rubbish and dumped it. That the Stones have clung to their caricature-based stamp all these years says a lot about just what a dead eye for detail they have - see also: calling restaurants Sticky Fingers, shagging Mandy Smith, Mick Jaggers catsuit years. For this best-of, they've made the tongue into the number 40, added colouring based on an idea rejected for a lolly by Lyon's Maid, and let that stand. It clearly says 'the Rolling Stones'; it clearly says 'nothing much inspired beyond collecting the hits.'

8 - Coldplay - A Rush of Blood To The Head image
"Hello, did we mention we had a friend who's been to Art College? He's done us this drawing, right, for the new album. It's very meaningful. It's like this person, only the top of their head has been flattened, so, its like they have no eyes or ears or brain, just a mouth. It's really, really, meaningful. We asked him what it meant, and he said 'Don't you know?' and we said, yeah, we do know, actually, we just didn't know what he thought it meant. And he just smiled. So, right, it's dead clever, actually. Proper art."
Okay, we take the piss, but at least they're trying. Especially after the last album looked like a Simply Red sleeve with Mick Hucknall painted out.

9 - Pink - Missundastood image, like you've not seen it before
D'you know, we're still not sure if we're looking at Pink on a toilet floor or a white leather sofa; everytime we see a different reproduction of the album sleeve, we change our minds again. Of course, that could be the point - is she in the lap of luxury, or down on her luck? - but we bet it isn't. Everything about the album's debut last January was designed to lure the unsuspecting purchaser of Can't Take Me Home back to her's, only to beat their heads about with angst and pain the moment they'd got their shoes off - so, as the lead single was Get The Party Started, the sleeve of the album was the ole' perky Pinky, just enough buttcheek poking through, the pink hair, the party girl. The clue was in the album's name - this is what you think I am, but.... Of course, this sleight of hand also allowed her to pull off an album cover which those who'd seek to compare her to "damn Britney Spears" would expect. Deft. We also wonder if the whole album title thingy (bad spelling, exclamation point madness) was a sly dig at Y Kant Tori Read?

10 - Elvis - Elv1s image
This is more like it, Rolling Stones. The classic presentation of Elvis, the huge 'name up in lights' version that Gates hilariously attempts to recast as 'Gareth' for his cover of Suspicious Minds, the "I" replaced with a "1"; white on a gold background - and a very tasteful shade of gold. Of course, when your vulgar ego has expired 25 years beforehand, it's easier for a design team to sell a good idea, but you put the sleeve of this next to the sleeve of forty licks, and one of them ends up looking like a school project. And we won't even mention the horror of the cover for the Beatles Number One collection...

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