Time to wear their art on their sleeves again

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

CD sales are declining and music is, increasingly, bought online. So why do bands still bother so much about album art? Gillian Orr discovers that some are making more interesting covers than ever

Last week, the online music community went into overdrive when revered US indie geeks, Weezer, released details of their latest album cover.

Not for them an arty snap of the band looking moody, or a picture of a beautiful lady flashing some flesh. Not even a buzzing cityscape shot. No, for the album cover of their eighth studio album, Weezer have chosen a close-up portrait of Jorge Garcia, better known as "the fat guy from Lost". They also confirmed that they would be naming the album after Garcia's character, Hurley. As far as album covers go, it is a bizarre and off-the-wall choice. But they haven't been the only high-profile band having a bit of fun with their album artwork recently.



Last month, Klaxons presented the album cover for their forthcoming sophomore effort, Surfing the Void. It is a cat posing in an astronaut suit. A similar ripple of amazement followed by bemusement ensued.



Earlier this year, MGMT ditched the traditional cool group shot that adorned their first album cover and chose, for their follow-up, a colourful graphic design of a surfing cat, under attack from a Sonic the Hedgehog-shape wave.



There is, of course, a rich and hilarious history of outlandish album art, but these recent jaw-dropping pieces prompt the question: what is the role of the album cover in the digital age?



In the last few years it has been predicted that album covers would soon be a dead art form. After all, no one sees albums anymore – all the record stores have closed down, and certainly nobody buys CDs anymore, right? Influential figures such as Sir Peter Blake, designer of one of the best-known album covers of all time, the Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Peter Saville, artwork designer for Roxy Music and New Order, have both publicly bemoaned the end of album art in recent years. Blake was reported to have said, "It survived from the LP to the CD, but... if that becomes obsolete then I guess album art won't exist. I think it would be a big loss."



You can't argue that it wouldn't be a crime for bands' artwork to disappear from popular culture – after all, there have been entire exhibitions dedicated to the art of the album sleeve – and their ability to be an extension of an artist's identity as well as inducing a wave of nostalgia must be cherished, but have these design leaders spoken too soon? Obviously the base product is changing: so it has become more complicated than just designing an LP sleeve, and traditionalists no doubt lament the end of having something tangible, but the very concept is still there: artists still need images and artwork to resonate with the public and to tell their story. While the industry is changing – digital album sales were up 56 per cent last year, while CD album sales were down 3.5 per cent – it's not as if the CD is moribund just yet. CDs still accounted for 79.5 per cent of all album sales during the first half of 2010.



And the record labels certainly aren't ready to say goodbye to album artwork just yet. Although they might acknowledge that the CD is less ubiquitous than it once was, and they have to embrace digital, the album cover remains the basis for an artist's entire marketing campaign. It will be on display at festivals, on outdoor billboards, in magazines. It's still very much a necessary branding exercise for them.



So while record-shop browsing is on the way out – three out of four independent record shops have closed in the past ten years and even some of the big retailers like Zavvi and Woolworths have failed to survive – consumers will still have access to that image on a number of other platforms. They will see it alongside every snippet written about the band, in the aforementioned marketing campaign, on its i-Tunes page. No longer having the opportunity to make an impact in a record shop, perhaps bands are better off with a bold image that will stand out on the various different platforms that the image will now appear across. It needs to be something that has an effect whether it is appearing on the side of a building or as a thumbnail.



Klaxons frontman, Jamie Reynolds, certainly thinks a powerful statement is key. "We wanted something that could be a potentially iconic image. We wanted it to stand out as much as those old Wonderbra adverts: when people saw those ads on billboards it would cause them to crash their cars." Spacecat, as the band have affectionately christened their feline cover star, was the boys' mascot while they were recording their album. It is bonkers, amusing and something the public won't forget. By releasing such artwork, Klaxons and Weezer have ensured endless speculation and buzz around their albums. Not a bad move.



Weezer frontman, Rivers Cuomo, recently revealed: "I just loved this photo of Jorge Garcia, it just had this amazing vibe. We didn't want to do a fourth self-titled record and we knew people would refer to it as "the Hurley record" even if we left it without that title, so we just called it Hurley. No words are on the cover because all we wanted was his amazing face."



In fact, while having an obscure picture of a character from a now defunct television show may have not been a wise move in the day of the record store, when CDs and records were literally judged by their covers, it becomes a stroke of genius in the digital age of today. It is blogged about, Tweeted about, emailed about.



Simon Fox, CEO of HMV Group, recently told a newspaper, "The entertainment industry is not just about one big album, here's the cheque, end of story. There is no one big answer – artists, labels and retailers have to work much harder and have multiple income streams, one is simply not enough." If that is the case, artists could do worse than using a strong image for the public to recognise and identify them with.



While some artists might still be trying to entice the record buying public back to physical CDs (Katy Perry's new album, Teenage Dream, is to be candyfloss scented, for example), the prevalence of the album cover is evolving and its future is uncertain. But because of the way it now gets viewed on more platforms than ever before, you can be sure to expect plenty of eccentric and wild statements from artists in the future. People may have laughed when Weezer's new album cover was revealed, but maybe the band are really on to something.



'Surfing the Void' is released on 23 August. 'Hurley' is released on 13 September

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all