With the advent of iTunes around the middle of the last decade, there was a brief panic amongst certain music lovers that album artwork – relegated to a small corner in the bottom left hand side of the programme, would become redundant. This anxiety was encapsulated by odious Staines lad rock band Hard-Fi’s decision to release their 2007 album, ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’ with a caption which simply said ‘No Cover Artwork’.
Thankfully Hard-Fi have all but faded into obscurity and the resurgence of vinyl has led to a renewed appreciation of artwork. A good sleeve truly can be a thing of beauty, and when paired with quality music it propels a record to iconic status. On this swelteringly hot Friday, we’ve decided to run down five of our favourite sleeves and the stories behind them…
Prodigy – ‘Music For The Jilted Generation’ (Stuart Haygarth, 1994)
The now Berlin based illustrator and lighting designer Stuart Haygarth collaborated with The Prodigy back in 1994 on their seminal album ‘Music For The Jilted Generation’. The album formed as a creative backlash to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994, which imposed new laws criminalising raves. Although later in his career Liam Howlett claimed the album had no political propensities, the release managed to capture the frustration of a generation, with an aggressive fast-paced approach to Dance music.
With artwork being the first reveal of many releases, especially in the 90s, it was important the visual identity coincided and reinforced the albums ethos and potential message. Haygarth was recruited by XL recordings to create the artwork from a screaming plaster head one of the group members obtained at Camden Market. The Prodigy requested for the head to look as if it had broken through skin or a membrane. Haygarth preceded by creating a stretched texture around the head out of modelling clay, and painting the surface of the model silver to add a metallic finish. Haygarth then sent a picture of the clay head he took in his studio, which can be seen here, to the record label, and the artwork was formed. The metallic finish and the faces expression of intense frustration correlates with the militaristic rebellious album, that captured the dismay of many and influenced artistic successors.
See more of Stuart’s work here.
Shackleton – Freezing Opening Thawing (Zeke Clough, 2014)
Responsible for some of the most relevatory Electronic music of the last ten years, Shackleton & Appleblim’s now defunkt Skull Disco imprint that ran through 05-08 is essential listening. If you’re unfamiliar and want to re-assert your credibility as a Dance music nerd, we advise that you read our ‘Back-In-The-Day’ feature with Zeke Clough from earlier this year. Zeke is the twisted mastermind behind the powerful artwork that accompanied and embodied the aesthetic of each and every Skull Disco release.
A long time friend of Sam Shackleton’s, Clough continues to collaborate with the artist today, his artwork for ‘Freezing Opening Thawing’ which appeared out of nowhere in January is the perfect representation of the music inside. We’re presented with a industrial/organic hybrid creation, operating pneumatically at some frenzied pace.
Drawing on Egyptology and heavily influenced by punk bands such as The Stooges & The Cramps he listened to as a teen, Zeke’s nightmarish illustrations have a menacing nature to them. Perfectly encapsulating the stark, skeletal framework of the music being produced by other Techno centric artists he’s affiliated himself with today such as The Bug, Ekoplekz & Kris Wadsworth.
Check out more of Zeke’s work on his website.
Patti Smith – ‘Horses’ (Robert Mapplethorpe, 1975)
Punk in its inception, and controversial in its reception, the cover for the fantastic debut album from Patti Smith was somewhat minimal. The black and white photo of Smith, captured by photographer friend Robert Mapplethorpe, was taken on a Polaroid camera using natural lighting. The story of the pair’s initial meeting is a coincidental one – the two met when Smith wandered into the wrong apartment looking for someone else. This led to the pair becoming very close friends, living together in one room where they worked on their respective art forms. In with in this apartment that the picture was taken.
The controversy arose from the androgynous look Smith adopted, resulting in the artists label Arista Records attempting to modify the image. In true Punk fashion, Smith would not allow any alterations to be made. Although the album artwork may seem relatively tame today, towards the end of 1975 a woman adopting a masculine get up was relatively unheard of and sneered at by the masses. The progressive brazen look blurred the lines between gender relevance and went on to influence the feminist Riot Grrrl movement in the early 90s. The other Mapplethorpe photograph featured depicted Smith naked in a vulnerable position, creating a dichotomy of what it means to be feminine and challenging traditional views on female attractiveness.
A Tribe Called Quest – Midnight Marauders
(Nick Gamma, Jean Kelly, Terrence A Reese and Carol Weinberg, 1993)
One of the most iconic album covers in Hip-Hop history, the sleeve for Tribe’s third album immortalized the leading lights of the genre’s ‘Golden Age’. The limitations of the pre-Photoshop age meant a couple of Q-Tip’s ambitious early designs proved to be too difficult to pull off, so him and the group eventually landed on the idea of getting portraits taken of themselves and 67 of their friends, contemporaries and heroes for the cover. Fellow Native Tongues members De La Soul, Busta Rhymes, The Pharcyde and Jungle Brothers all feature, as well as the Beastie Boys, Dr.Dre, Chuck D, Grandmaster Flash and Sean ‘P Diddy’ Combs – to name but a very few.
There are some notable absences such as Run DMC and Queen Latifah, but art director Nick Gamma blames these on the artists being unavailable – rather than any kind of deeper meaning a la the multitude of conspiracy theories surrounding The Beatles’ ‘Sergeant Pepper’ cover. Issued in three separate versions – with red, black and green borders respectively, the cover features a reappearance of the abstractly drawn woman that adorned their previous album ‘Low End Theory’. Over time the artwork has continued to be as influential as the classic album which it adorns, inspiring a range of Air Jordan apparel and footwear, the cover for Talking Heads’ 2004 best of album and countless posters and prints.
To read more about the story behind the artwork, check out Egotrip’s interview with Nick Gamma.
Miles Davis – Bitches Brew (Mati Klarewein, 1970)
Hands down my favourite record sleeve of all time, the gatefold-cover for Jazz iconoclast Miles Davis’ seminal 1970 body of work was conceived by German born painter, Mati Klarewein on Davis’ request. The expressionistic work depicts the spirit of free love and the ‘flower power’ of the times with black lovers intertwined by a cosmic energy, gazing across a foreboding ocean while thunderstorms loom ominous in the distance and fiery red flowers sit in the centre. The back features a tribal demi-goddess, a random hooded woman and a yin & yang style merging of hands which siphon upwards into the inversed heads that form the centre of the painting.
Explosive in style, this aggressive brew is a far cry from Davis’ prominent previous endeavours: ‘Kind Of Blue’ (59’) & ‘In A Silent Way’ (69’) – rejecting traditional Jazz methodologies, he delving into uncharted territories he experimented with electronic instruments and an improvisational rock-influenced style. The record was initially received with mixed reviews as one would expect due to it’s highly controversial and provocative nature and title.
‘Bitches Brew’ has garnered recognition as one of the most influential Jazz works of all time and the artwork perfectly fits the music on the record, which marked a cornerstone in Davis’ career and a turning point in modern Jazz. Klarewein was pretty much the most sought after artist for music artwork during the fruitful, revolutionary period that was the late sixties. Jimi Hendrix & Carlos Santana are but some of the other names he collaborated with.
Mati Klarewein’s work spanning 50 years is collected in a limited edition book “Mati & The Music: 52 Record Covers 1955-2005” and can be viewed on his official website.