Best & Worst Album Cover Artwork of 2017 – Updated Summary
By Mike Goldstein, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com
January 3, 2018 update – As I noted in my recent monthly news summary, for the past five years I’ve worked to present you with a recap of the many articles published by art/music/design writers on the Best and Worst examples of album cover design used to package music products here and abroad. Taking the many “Top 10” lists that were proffered and then breaking them down to look for patterns and consistencies, I’d been able to present a fairly-scientific summary of those covers which had earned the most kudos or raspberries from this group of industry experts and observers.
Unfortunately, this year I’m unable to do this for you as the number of people writing on the topic has dropped precipitously, leaving me without the basis of a statistically-significant study. I suppose that I only have myself to blame as each year I have gone on record saying that it was a fool’s errand to create “best” and “worst” lists – “best” or “worst” in what way, following what criteria? It’s something I never would have the courage/expertise to do on my own, but I always felt that it was OK to summarize others’ attempts to do so (I mean, why not let them look like fools, as long as I could benefit from it – just joking, of course).
In any case, there were a few such lists published, including the two I’d given you previously – Loudwire’s list focused on covers of records aimed at head-bangers and Pop Culture watchers Paste Magazine’s take on The 40 Best Album Covers of 2017, which included covers by Migos, Father John Misty, St. Vincent, Manchester Orchestra and, for those not willing to click thru all 40 images, the #1 selection turning out to be Tim Heidecker’s homage to our current president’s hair style. And while not supported by a LOT of data, I can say that there were several records that did appear more frequently on lists than others, such as Bjork’s Utopia, Thundercat’s Drunk and Tyler The Creator’s Flower Boy, to name just a few.
For now, to point you in the general direction of the newest articles I could find on the topic is the best I can do for you, so please don’t think any less of me, and enjoy this additional info:
a) Art and design blog Creative Bloq tendered its list of the 20 Best Album Covers of the last year in a posting by contributor Sammy Maine, with covers by Bjork, Girlpool, Thundercat, Gingerlys and Beck taking the top five spots. Each item is accompanied by a helpful blurb, something several other lists failed to include this year (I mean, who needs to state a reason for selecting one cover or another?).
b) Josiah Hughes, writer for the Exclaim.ca site, explains in his posting on the Worst Covers of 2017 (no “Best” list was posted this year) that “we’re not here to dissect pretentiousness or mediocrity; instead, we’ve done a deep dig to unearth the very worst visuals this year’s albums had to offer. From boring babies to bestiality, these abysmal sights cannot be unseen.” The list includes several examples of marketing laziness from top-selling artists including Quiet Riot, The Darkness, Taylor Swift and The Killers, with the “Best of the Worst” this year being the disturbing-for-all-the-wrong-reasons cover for No Culture, released by Vancouver, Canada-based musical act Mother, Mother (oh, brother).
c) Billboard’s Tatiana Cirisano has compiled the publication’s 25 Best & Worst Album Covers of 2017, presenting it in a somewhat-confusing fashion, mixing good and bad in a single column. Each entry does include a line or two about each record and, in some cases, about the person/people that created the cover. In the “good list” are covers from Lorde (artist Sam McKinniss’ painted portrait of the young singer received rave reviews when it was released last June), Kendrick Lamar (DAMN! good cover), the National’s Grammy-nominated cover for Sleep Well Beast and Drake, who used a vintage photo of his father, Dennis Graham, on the cover of More Life. Bad list standouts include besties Katy Perry and Taylor Swift (Katy, for sporting an eyeball in her mouth – WTF? – on her Witness cover and Taylor for using weekend craft fair-grade imagery to mess up her Reputation) and Eminem’s “boy, does my head ache”-under-a-flag cover for Revival, among several others There were, in fact, many more “Bests” than “Worsts” in the list, so whether a cover was good or bad, each was memorable in its own way – https://www.billboard.com/photos/8070310/best-worst-album-covers-of-2017-top-25 includes a video overview
d) Other album cover art-related recap articles presented at year’s end include:
Alternative Press shares its “26 Best Album Covers, Ever” list, based on voting done on Twitter. Presented “in no particular order” (and, therefore, not useful in our annual “best of” calculations), you’ll find a couple of examples from all the way back in the 1990s, including the covers for Dirt by Alice In Chains and Dookie by Green Day; a couple of memorable images from the 2000s, such as In Love And Death by The Used, Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory (with the band’s Mike Shinoda contributing the very Banksy-looking graphic design work) and Let It Enfold You by Senses Fail (featured very spooky art by famed poster artist James Rheem Davis) and the rest from the past several years, which is no surprise to me considering the fact that Millennials tend not to wax nostalgic about album art (this coming from an old fart like me). No Pink Floyd or The Beatles here… Compiled by Kaitlyn Ulrich – https://www.altpress.com/features/entry/best_album_artwork
One bonus you’ll get to see on the last page of this article (at the article’s conclusion – https://www.altpress.com/features/entry/best_album_artwork/P2) is a brief video featuring Nick Hamm of the indie rock band Citizen talking about the inspiration behind the cover graphics for several of their records, including the two versions (regular retail and a special edition sold at concert shows) of their most-recent release, As You Please. The band creates their own cover art – simple and very personal expressions of their own creativity.
Also worth a look – While Richard Allen and the folks at A Closer Listen don’t present a “top 10” list – the covers included are listed in alphabetical order, so I can’t include them in any analysis I might try to do – they have included quotes from both the musicians and the people who created the album art, so it’s a bit more in-depth than most articles of this kind – https://acloserlisten.com/2017/12/13/acl-2017-the-years-best-album-covers/
This site’s focus is on reviews of instrumental and experimental music, written by die-hards from around the world, so while it doesn’t include info on what’s hip and happening today in the Pop music world, it does expose us a bit to a part of the music business that has a dedicated fan base and always-interesting album art. I was particularly impressed with the cover for Throwing Snow’s Embers album that features art by band-member Ross Tones that’s then animated (when viewed with the Layar camera app) by Scottish motion designer/3D artist Brendan Bennet (working as “BREZ”). You can watch a short video via a link in the article, and see more of this designer’s work on his site at http://www.brez.co.uk/info/
One thing remains clear – there were many artists this past year (the aforementioned Tim Heidecker, with Snoop Dogg also coming to mind) that chose to express their views about the current state of the world both in their music and the images that package and promote their products, keeping the question whether album covers reflect or promote societal/cultural trends at the forefront of our ongoing discussions…
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