Wednesday, May 21, 2008

How to Chose an Album Cover, Part 2 of 2

Yesterday, we began our course in Album Coverolgy 201, covering the a trifecta of possible cover strategies: Sex Appeal, Elaborate Outfits, and Phenomenal Hubris. Notably, we learned that none of these formidable strategies were sacrosanct, that each led to ruin in more cases than success. These, indeed, are trying times. We soldier onward.

4- The Aggressively Half-Ass Route

With so many ways to go wrong, it's not surprising that bands often err on the side of simplicity. You can't have a woman crapping on your cover whilst holding her shoe if you never take that photo, in other words. Take the Beatles' "White Album" for example: classy, bold, clean, iconic, the inherent message being "the music speaks for itself." But tread lightly, as it's only a hop, skip, and a jump from "Subtle and Classic" to "Put your hands up and step away from the glue stick":

The "Blue Album"

The "Speech Bubbles: They're Not Just For Garfield Anymore Album"

The "Spell Check Album"

I know what your'e thinking: those aren't even attempts at the delicate, Rothkoesque simplicity of the "White Album," to which I'd say, yes, that's true. But they certainly took more time to design. It's like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich: sometimes less is more. Once you start adding apple slices and honey and toenail clippings, you're left with something inedible. Less, in other words, can be more.

5- The Patently Disturbing Route

Also known as the "Purposefully Controversial Route," our fifth cover art strategy has enjoyed wide and storied success. The Black Crowes "Amorica" and Two Live Crew's "As Nasty As They Wanna Be," with their exposed pubic hair and shimmery buttockseseses, were transparent attempts to spark controversy, thereby sparking interest, thereby selling records, and in both cases, it worked. Further, the entire genre of metal cover art is predicated on this idea, much to the pleasure of millions of teenage boys and Scandinavians; our producer Tom gave Dave an album called "Leprosy" by a band called "Death," for example, though it could have been an album called "Death" by a band called "Leprosy." A Mobius Strip of dorkdom, indeed.

And, naturally, sometimes this approach can go oh so wrong:

"I'd rather not"

Or, "Your Children Will Never Sleep Again"

I'm really not okay with this one

See, there's a difference between fighting censorship and giving me pigmask nightmares. I say "fighting censorship" because that's ostensibly what the Black Crowes and Two Live Crew did, albeit with hirsute genitals and sophomoric raunch. If you're going to shock somebody, it's important that there's a purpose. It's the difference betweem Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Hostel: both are disturbing, but one is an atmospheric classic while the other is porn for sadists. Another route best avoided.

6- The Man Rides Giant Rat Route

Admittedly, this is a small genre, without a reputable album to hold up as a guide. But I'll be Goddamned if I wasn't going to include Swamp Dogg.

7- The Fucking Awesome Route

Which brings us, in the end, to the answer. In the same way you don't make music by talking about who you want to sound like, you don't make a cover by mimicry. Granted, the Best And Greatest Album Of All Time (tm), London Calling, is a parody of an old Elvis Presley cover, but again, that's the exception to the rule. When we're writing songs, there's always a moment when, after playing a song well for the first time, the notes still decaying, we look at each other and just grin. Sometimes, you just know it's "right." So, while we we've learned we can't simply rip off the following examples of brain-boggling luminosity, I think they speak for themselves:

So do I!

Verily, this is the definition of "Fucking Awesome"

Nevermind. This is.

I imagine the graphic designer finishing the colored marker touchup on Metal Magic, pushing his rolling chair back a few inches from his desk, and thinking, not unlike Dr. Frankenstein, mad with brilliance and dedication, "I've done it. I have created a masterpiece." When it all boils down, all you can wait for is that moment. You have to keep trying, keep plugging away, and, in the end, you'll know. If it doesn't feel right, well, it isn't.

So, without further ado, I'll unveil here, for the first time, the cover art for the brand new Birdmonster album. When it appeared in my inbox early this week, I recall having a "Eureka" moment, knowing, inherently, that we had exactly what we needed, and knowing that no image could possibly convey the artistic statement we are making any better than this:

See, the new Birdmonster album is a lot like a merman on a skateboard. It's mythical, yet earthy. It's experimental, yet American. It's a merman. On a skateboard.

Thematically, it works too. Peter's lyrics have been dominated by aerobics for the past year, notably his use of badminton imagery, which you'll find most striking on "Don't Shuttlecock a Shuttlecocker" and "Put Down That Racket So We Can Skateboard Like Mermen."

I hope you guys like it.

p.s. I'd like to send a big "Godspeed" to Bizarre Records dot com, without whom, several of these brilliant covers would never have been discovered. Like Swamp Dogg. I love you Swamp Dogg.


Trott said...

My girlfriend actually owns the Jonah Jones I Dig Chicks LP. I've actually held the thing in my hands. It exists. Which makes me very happy.

elvette said...

You gotta put a disclaimer on this post. Some of us can't be laughing that loud at work.

But don't overlook the influence of such a fine recording artist as: Mingering Mike.

p.s. sister of elvette will be at the Mercury Lounge show.

birdmonster said...

Trott: You need to stop everything and propose RIGHT. NOW. You can't let a woman like that get away, dammit. We'll play a whole Jonah Jones set at your wedding. Scout's honor.*

Elvette: Patiently explain to your boss that you were overcome with love of Mermen. He will have to understand.

And please patiently tell Mingering Mike they're called "Graphic Designers" and that they are plentiful. Sister of Elvette gets a hearty hi-five, as well.

* Keeping in mind, of course, I was never in the Boy Scouts.

Anonymous said...

you know, back when i was in prep school in the hamptons, we played a lot of badminton. it was either that or lacrosse, and my knee was bad from an old polo injury, so that was out. me and the boys (Jonesy, Higgs and The Scottish Retard), we were so "into" badminton that we'd play it whenever we could. We called ourselves "The Shuttlecocks". Badminton terms started to infiltrate our conversation, and we came up with a lot of badminton-related code to mask what we were saying. the girls at the yacht club had no idea what we were talking about when we noted that she had a nice raquet!

jonesy had a thing for Shelby VanB. i think he liked how she could open a bottle of perrier with her teeth. anyway, we were at the club house one day, and he finally decided to make a move. but all of a sudden, we noticed that she was going to leave with old Rupert Higgenbotham! Of all people! well, jonesy stood right up, marched over, took Shelby's arm, whispered something in her ear, and they walked out together!

Old Rupert had been Shuttlecock blocked.

birdmonster said...

Hobo: Rupert Higgenbotham was, and always will be, preppie scum of the highest order. Hearing that one fine evening, he was denied, in his Sperry topsiders, light pink Izod polo, and Dockers khakis, the love of a woman as phenomenally endowed as Shelby VanBuren warms my heart to the hockles. Or is it hackles? I'm not sure. In fact, I'm not even sure what that means. It's never stopped me before.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

Baby you're outside don't go to sleep don't go baby

yeah, I'm listening to No Midnight right now. I picked it up on Lower Sproul when you guys played Cal ...

I liked your energy and have been diggin' on the album.

By the way, my sweetie thought that "Let Me Touch Him" album art was so hilarious -- he ran onto it a long time ago -- that he put it our desktop slideshow. I think he finally discarded it as I haven't seen it in awhile. The raindrops are better.