Jam of the week: "Leif Erikson" by Interpol
Common wisdom says one should not judge a book by its cover. Those words can be extended to other mediums, but the hardest cover for me to get over is the one placed on an album.
I'm drawn into album artwork. I suppose it comes from my first expeditions into music when I was a preteen digging through my dad's CD collection. I was sort of forced to take wild stabs at albums to listen to, since the only music I was exposed to prior were classic rock bands I barely comprehended and boy bands I could barely stand.
Over time, my taste in music has evolved past the point of listening to AC/DC on repeat. That's probably a bad example, since I'm pretty sure "Back in Black" was my go-to album of theirs. Regardless, I've always looked to the album artwork to get a feel for an album. The colorful covers of Electric Light Orchestra's "Out of the Blue" and Boston's debut album took me by surprise at a young age, although I wondered why bands in the 70's liked UFO imagery so much.
The importance of a visual "teaser" is lost in other media. Sure, a movie poster can be visually appealing and use interesting, nontraditional elements, but its impact is lost since it is primarily a visual work. Book covers can have this effect, since the medium of text makes readers imagine the imagery of the piece. However, I rarely see such attention to the cover art on books as I see on albums.
I was hoping I could go longer in this column without bringing up The Beatles, but they are undoubtedly a great example of the point I'm trying to get across. While my knowledge of the band is lacking, which I've been reminded of of many times from people much older and much younger than I, their progression as a band is evident in their album artwork. Their "boy band" early albums mostly feature themselves, such as "A Hard Day's Night" and "With the Beatles," while their psychedelic awakening is marked with the imagery of "Sgt. Pepper's" and "Revolver."
The age of digital photography has only enhanced band's ability to create a world of music within an image. Graphic design is the force behind such new album covers. Radiohead's iconic "OK Computer" album features a cover that feels dirtied by a mess of digital images. While I'm not a Radiohead aficionado, I think that's a fairly good descriptor for the album as a whole.
To be fair, there are plenty of artists that are not very ambitious with their covers, and I'm sure there are even more that didn't give their album art a second thought and focused on their music. Album art is really more of a footnote to an album. However, I can't deny how much I enjoy the time and effort that some put into that footnote. I've downloaded several albums released for free that have included artwork for each, individual song such as Nine Inch Nail's "The Slip," released in 2008. The attention to those minor details is the mark of a true artist in my mind as it lends to the piece as a whole.
Now, I usually get my music recommendations through friends or websites. I rarely find myself looking through album covers at a store waiting for something to pique my interests. Still, I always give the album art a detailed look to decipher what the artist might be trying to get across with their work.