Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bauhaus Ziggy Stardust Cover

I wish I had kicked things off with this much earlier; it's a special track.

I'm not a David Bowie fan. I have a few things here and there, but I am rather superficial in my appreciation for his catalog. In fact, I can count on one hand the things I like. Ziggy Stardust is one of them, and Bauhaus do a better version, bar none.

That may be the sound of a heretic you hear when you are exposed to this truth, but that's how I see it. Bauhaus deliver a better version, one with a hell of a lot more passion and fire.

This release came in October of 1982 as Bauhaus began to wind down, cease functioning as a band, and fall apart. Recorded during sessions for the BBC, these tracks have always been favorites, particularly their version of Third Uncle. I love the design and sensibility of a Bauhaus release; their artwork was superb, always.

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Verve Slide Away Covers

The Verve used a sleeve design conceived by Brian Cannon and photography by Michael Spencer Jones for this single, which is for one of my all-time favorite songs, Slide Away.

These concept-driven sleeves tell more of a story than just "buy our product" and this one is no exception. It's a more passive display than would appear on later singles by the Verve. Using a lit-up star, blow up letters, old cabinets, some poor fellow in an open tanning bed, a guitar and amp, and a distraught woman facing nuclear oblivion in the distance, this sleeve has more going on than your average television program.

Mr. Jones is still one of the most highly regarded photographers there is. Microdot is a tremendously influential design company. Even though some of these sleeves are coming up on twenty years old, they hold up rather well.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Simple Minds Sparkle in the Rain Covers

One of my all-time favorite covers.

I love the simplicity and the taste that went into designing the cover, and the whole album package. The design alone is worth a thousand posts, and I really can't do it justice. Two golden bands, a shield, the flourishes on the side, and the text--what more could you need?

If the Eighties were a period of throwaway junk, count this album as being anything but a throwaway.

Wang Chung Everybody Have Fun Tonight

Wang Chung should be remembered more fondly. At one time, they were an obscure, very 80s Indie kind of a band.

Their monster hit made them a household name, but their entire catalog of music is fairly diverse and artistically brilliant. If you can never forgive someone a favor, then you can probably count on never letting success go without a backlash of some sort.

This is very, very typical of how things were marketed in the 1980s. Bright primary colors, blocks and text going down the sides, all very modern and manipulative of the eye. What does any of the imagery used here have to do with anything? It was the Eighties. Nothing meant anything.

Echo and the Bunnymen Live Photo

Nick Daughtry has a pair of spectacular live photos of the Bunnymen in action. You can see them here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Rachel Goswell Waves Are Universal Package

Rachel Goswell's 2004 solo album Waves Are Universal is a stunning achievement, woefully overlooked and as lush and full of life as any spread of flowers anywhere. It's a brilliant album, executed with tender care and fussy attention to detail.

The artwork for this album is stunning. The package folds out into a broad sheet with photos and artwork on one side, flowers and lyrics on the other. This is worth it for the design and detail alone. It's a fantastic presentation, on 4AD, nonetheless.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Stone Roses Album Digipack Covers

The Stone Roses "debut" album in 1989 stands as one of the greatest musical achievements in all of rock and roll, bar none. Nothing killed the 1980s and ushered in the 1990s like it and no other debut, save for a handful I shall not name, ranks higher in terms of the cultural shift or impact that it had. Enough said.

The art of the Stone Roses was inspired and notable for how it brought the music into view. There's no way to imagine the singles and the songs without the art that accompanied it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sleeperbloke Explained

The term "Sleeperbloke" should not pass without explanation:
In the 1990s the music press came up with an expression to describe any anonymous gaggle of musicians hiding in the shadow of a more glamorous frontperson. They were dubbed Sleeper Blokes, in honour of those members of Britpop act Sleeper who somehow managed to be even less glamorous than vocalist Louise Wener.
There you have it. Any normal looking male would fade into the background standing next to Louise Wener--yesterday, today or tomorrow. 

Louise Wener

What a lovely lady.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Slowdive Souvlaki Covers

It's unfortunate that my edition has the very pronounced creases in it--the CD booklet for Slowdive's Souvlaki folds out and there's a wonderful band portrait in it. I'm going to put up Rachel Goswell's Waves Are Universal at some point, so expect more of that sort of thing.

The entire blog could be about Slowdive and Mojave 3 and everyone involved. I wouldn't mind that a bit. This is one of the finest things you could ever hope to own. The music is stunning and the artwork for this album, while muted and all, is more than appropriate. Slowdive were never properly understood or appreciated.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Echobelly Best of Compilation Front and Back

Best of compilations need not be frustrating and bland. I came across these scans of the front and back of a "best of" from Echobelly.

Instead of featuring a great cover, this compilation went out and found Sonya Madan and her three "sleeperblokes" looking as if they were all suffering from a desperate group toothache. What's worse is that there were five members of Echobelly, and so someone is missing from this cover. Fans already know all of this--why insult them further? A best of compilation should be an accurate reflection of what's on the album. Even if someone leaves a band, you should find a way to tell the story of the band's career with the "best of" cover.

Echobelly are now Calm of Zero, by the way.

Will Sergeant Live Photo

Will Sergeant, live photo, scanned from the information booklet of the Echo and the Bunnymen re-release.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Darling Buds Tiny Machine Scans

There's not much here that lends itself to the idea that Tiny Machine was a single released by Welsh band The Darling Buds. The cover doesn't carry that "easy to read" sort of text that some singles hit you with. It's a muddled, confused sort of mess, and it predates the sort of covers that Radiohead would issue with their singles and albums. Two other images came along with the set--a promotional photo of singer Andrea Lewis and an alternate image, and this was part of what was released as a special edition.

The Darling Buds were unable to maintain the momentum of their debut Pop Said..., which I like a great deal. I thought Crawdaddy was a good album but it didn't carry them as far as it should have. The Darling Buds then adopted a more "grunge" style and tried to ride that wave with Erotica, which attempted to steal a little of Madonna's thunder (her "Erotica" album came out a few weeks later). Harley Farr is a very underrated guitarist and composer; Chris McDonogh was the only other original member of the band to stick it out through their year-long American tour and the inevitable change in drummers that happens when things aren't working for a band.

I hate to see bands get lumped into groups. The Darling Buds were thrown in with the whole "blonde wave" movement that happened in the late 1980s, and that was so unfair. They were Welsh and they played some great songs. Their career ended way too soon.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Voice of the Beehive Sex and Misery US and UK Covers

Voice of the Beehive were a band formed by two sisters in the mid-1980s. They were active for about two years before exhausting themselves, according to their own bio.

The top version is the cover of their Sex and Misery album, and this version appeared in the United Kingdom. The bottom version was directed at the US market.

Why two covers? Why such drastically different versions? No idea. The top version is more charming and more inviting. It seems to capture an awkward moment and, while it is no doubt designed to help "sell" an album that has Sex in the title, it's not as exploitative as it could have been. Capturing one of the ladies in the act of busting out laughing keeps it interesting. The bottom version is more anonymous, more suggestive, eliminating what I think is the best feature of the band, and that is their personality.

The Stone Roses Promotional Photo at the Eiffel Tower

The Stone Roses
I scanned this out of the anniversary digipack that the Stone Roses put out for their debut (which is one way of starting an argument since you could make the case that Garage Flower was their true debut).

In any event, I haven't been able to branch out much with the blog because I'm establishing several different things right now. I want to be able to add more posts about style, fashion, marketing and things like this, or "promotional photos" that bands have to suffer through in order to get their names into magazines and the like.

This sort of photo shoot looks like there was more than adequate preparation beforehand. It's well lit and the Stone Roses are clowning around in all of their Indie glory. This is exactly the sort of shot that would accompany an interview or a blurb about their latest release in a music magazine article. They're dressed in that Englishman About Town look, jackets and traveling clothes. The Stone Roses were no clotheshorse band and they rarely had any money (until Geffen Records decided to dump several million pounds on them). This is a very authentic sort of look and wouldn't alienate their fans like posing in top hats, tuxedoes and with canes under their arms would.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Echo and the Bunnymen Echo and the Bunnymen (The Grey Album) Covers

Echo and the Bunnymen dropped the so-called "Grey Album" right at the moment I was graduating from high school (indifferently and anonymously, of couse) and it has been with me since that summer. Oh, sure. There were times when I was down on the Bunnymen. Were they down on themselves? Retired? Abandoned? Who knows?

The Grey Album is a masterpiece, but a flawed one that was "overcooked" and designed to put a cap on the first four Echo and the Bunnymen albums. Each and every one of the first four will get a full treatment here. I hope I can do justice to this one before I try to tackle those monsters.

And they are monsters. Each Echo and the Bunnymen album is a different headed monster, towering over music in ways most people don't understand. They are devouring things, brilliant examples of how you're supposed to write, record, and play music. A monster is a wonderful thing, when you think about it. A monster keeps the bland crap at bay and whenever you find yourself tired of the predictable, find a monster that runs wild with abandon and follow it.

Released during the summer of U2, this album couldn't elevate the Bunnymen to the level of arenas and football stadiums. It was, and is, a record that has stood up well over time.

The Grey Album is a song sequence that hammers you into submission. The brilliant opening track, The Game, is world weary and full of warmth. It's off to the races with Over You and the exquisite bounce of Bedbugs and Ballyhoo. Before you know it, you're caught in the masterpiece single Lips Like Sugar. Then it was (in the old days) on to Side Two, and Side Two of any Bunnymen album is where the ideas roam and where the feet stomp on pretension and indifference. In the span of a few tracks, the ideas rummage around and blossom. There are more subtle changes and shifts on a Bunnymen album than can be contemplated in just a few listens. I have always marveled at how, even years and years later, each listen to the whole album hits me with things I didn't remember were there. If you're not careful, songs like Blue Blue Ocean will have you confused as to why you're stunned by the results. The closer, All My Life, takes the weary threads and walks them home, and if you were to find yourself wandering back to start The Game all over again, then you're a friend of mine.

This is the slip-cover adorned deluxe package. This is where the extending mix of Bring on the Dancing Horses becomes the perfect closing track. Few throwaway singles have ever been as brilliant. What soundtrack? The Bunnymen don't need lame teenage movies to sell singles.

Nothing tops the package, however. The artistic expression of the Grey Album is evidenced by the minimalistic tones of the cover. Would it have worked in day-glo colors? Probably not. I love the shadow figures on the back cover. In fact, I might have flipped them--put the band photo on the back and run with the "monster" created by the four posing figures. Who knows?

I can't say enough about this album. I waited to put it here, and now I'll probably come back from time to time and expand upon this essay. I remember hearing Lips Like Sugar for the first time, and I thought it sounded otherworldly and wonderful. It is one of the great singles of my life.

Lloyd Cole and the Commotions Easy Pieces Cover and Back

The cover of the album Easy Pieces by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions reveals the artistic sensibilities of the 1980s without disguising a love of scissors and glue. For my taste (and I know some will disagree), this random assortment of common items is awful. I'm sure that the cover was discussed, and someone may have ordered it up, as organized and delivered, but I'm not a fan of the way these pieces were thrown together. I understand that there was a theme, but that theme was followed to the detriment of what ended up being released.

Now, was there an artist on the other end of this who tried to make it work? Absolutely, and just because I don't like this cover doesn't mean I think that person was a terrible artist. Far from it, this was just a piece that didn't work. It was a presentation method that, I think, ended up looking far too cluttered and slashed and sliced up. I particularly despise the use of the newspaper at an angle, with strips of cut-up photos laid over the text to keep from revealing which paper and what was printed on it. I don't like the addition of the rose--another nod to the idea that romantic pop music has to be labeled and identified as such by the careful placement of flowers so that no one will think that this is heavy metal or weird ska music.

I particularly don't like seeing the titles of the songs on the album printed on the front. With a futuristic design like this, incorporating a lot of "modern" art elements in the style and arrangement of the items on the front, why go with that retro feature found on old albums? It doesn't make sense because it mixes too many different sensibilities. The images here are a newspaper, telling me "this album is current and up to date and aware of the world." A rose, telling me that you will get a heady dose of "love songs and romantic music." And then some jarring bits of clip art that have been printed out, sliced up with an X-acto knife, and spread around randomly, telling me that "it's 1985 and this is modern and chic."

The arrangement on the back is a little better. That's a nice way to do band photos. Why not make that collage the entire cover, with a white background? Was that considered? That's the most redeeming feature I can name.