Marty Edwards (BA) Graphic Design Year Two Contextual Theoretical Studies
How does album Covers effect the way that the public perceive and react towards them?
Album covers have a strong way in which they effect how we look and buy the music of artists around the world. These can be changed the views on a topic through the hidden and underlying fundamentals of an image, an image can easily mean a deep life changing lesson to one person, yet to another, just appear to be a pretty picture. This essay is going to show how there are many functions that can alter the value and the eminent of the album covers. There will be a range of sources through-‐out this study to show how these not only denote a design brand of an artist, which they would be recognized for but also how the album artwork covers can portray connote a deeper understanding of what the actual music itself wants to portray and make the viewer feel. The final technique that will be implied through-‐out the reading will be the use of semiotics, this will break down how the artist may have used encoding and decoding to get messages across to you that you may not have even noticed. All of these techniques are used everyday and after reading this study you will no longer be as objective too. Nick De Ville states that there is four functions in album cover design these consist of the following -‐
In modern society, there are so many more functions to what an album cover is used for than what there previously was in the past. Album covers used to be simply a commodity to which the artwork offered the buyer, However as people
now illegally download music and the market no longer as valued as highly as it used to be, more functions now started to take place and in turn, effect how album covers need to be created. The artwork can offer protection to the band that in turn plays a part with the advertising aspect of this through the logo design which I briefly talked about in the introduction. The largest function of an album cover is which now describes how it all can work is down to the accompaniment, the art work has become a collectable which you can only acquire once you have purchased the album thus linking it back to commodity. All of these functions working along side each other make the artwork of an album cover as much of a crucial factor as the music itself. Fig.1
This first album cover was created for the band, prodigy. The designer “Alex Jenkins” was trying to capture the feeling of fear by using the crab as the key feature “for many of us the crab is deeply etched in our subconscious as a symbol of fear from paddling in seaside rock pools” (Jenkins, 1997, pg60) This album cover denotes a numerous messages in everything that is on this album cover, one of the most subtle ones is the small ant image next to the bands name, “the ant is a small and powerful creature like the band” (Album Covers, 1999, pg60) this is a discreet message which could easily go over looked even though its used as a branding function. Another purpose for the crab being the key feature of this album cover is that it relates strongly towards the title of the album, ‘The Fat Of The Land’ suggests that there is spoils to be had from the land, crabs often leave the water to venture on land to thrive from these, another design choice from Alex Jenkins. Along side the denotations that are offered from the design there is also the contrasted side to the analysis. Connotations are something, which make this a famous album cover; it delivers numerous unseen messages such as the blurred background of the sand and water showing that it’s a very high paced style of music. All the colours on this design are highly impacting so that the outcome is much more dynamic, the tones used are rather neutral and discreet where as the tones and shades used for the crab are much more vibrant and striking to catch the eyes of the viewer “the crab is a strong metaphor for the band – Colourful, full of energy” (Album Covers, 1999, pg60) This gives the album its abstract styled outcome.
This album cover overall delivers a strong message about the band and how it communicates the mixed range of messages to the audience. Fig.2
This second album cover has a large amount of the same techniques used in the same manner as with the prodigy album cover. The main connotations that appear upon looking at this album cover is upper class and high authority, the logo which is placed on the tail fin of the plain was created to resemble the Harley Davidson motorbike brand logo which is ranked highly in the eyes of the public. Then you have the expensive looking plane that comes across being a private jet due to the branding on the back of the plane. If you switch the album cover around to the back you are then witness to the plane which has crashed
into a mountain, this again is a way to get how the beastie boys want to be perceived in society “brave, yet dangerous image to flaunt, its fascinating, life’s not all “plane’ sailing” (Album Covers, 1999, pg90) The front cover also offers a strong denotation of messages, mainly this is picked up from the front cover of the executive fin, if you don’t look hard enough and concentrate on what meanings are trying to be force fed towards you then they can be missed. When the album cover is looked at all together you are able to see how “the front cover looks safe enough – the tail plane of a luxury executive jet, but when the cover is viewed as a whole, we see the plane has crashed into the side of a mountain.” (Album Covers, 1999, pg91) Semiotics also influence the publics views upon this album cover, the outcome of this ranges from person to person, some have said it to be “really cool” (Steve Byram, pg91) where others were offended as it delivered some phallic implications “if you look at the cover sideways it looks like a penis with pubic hair” (Rick Rubin, 1999, pg91) Even though there are these implications in the design, it still remains notable to many. This proves that not only is the band creating a strong image for itself but the commodity of this album cover is holding its place in the viewers eyes and thus enabling itself to become a strong accompaniment to the music.
Storm Thorgerson created this abnormal album cover design for Pink Floyd, this album cover is much more recent than the previous two yet still follows the same style of messages which is connotes and denotes. There are so many hidden messages in this album cover as they are now used to be more meaning full, so instead of just being an album cover, they now tell a story. The lights are something which stand out as they are in the centre of the design, the message which this connotes is how the two heads are talking to each other, this could be for them to continue talking about the songs, on a more simplistic view it could just be there to represent the teeth of the statues, this gives the statues a certain personification about them, especially when the targets are used as eyes too give that penetrating stare! There is a concept which was created a while ago which originated from two silhouettes staring at each other,
this is called “the vase effect” (Album Covers, 1999, pg51) this is one of the areas which this design came from. These however are a copy from the drawings created by designer Keith Breeden. This album also denotes a message about the band and how they grew up with the background being an image of Cambridge, this being were Pink Floyd grew up. Then we have the statues which show the activities which Pink Floyd enjoy, this being flying there own jets, hence why there is the sculpture painted to look like the metal plates of a plane. Fig.4
This is the final album cover that I will analyze, this is the “Origin of Symmetry by Muse” this is something which has a lot of connotations and denotations, some of the messages that this album denotes to its audience is what looks like a mixture between antennas and a scarce forest, It has the illustrated style of drawing to show how things don’t need to be neat or precise to be created into an album
cover. The real meaning that Muse wanted to be connoted was “the concept was intended to mirror the albums theory of symmetry of the universe” (NME MUSE Collectors Magazine, 2010, pg38) this shows how the encoding that the designer has created and the de-‐coding that has been made from the public can easily get lost in translation. The designer William Eager wanted to base his work on the concept of alien rugby post/aerial look, this is the style, which I sort of gathered yet not something that I would expect. “A collection of the work of 14 artists who’ve all been given that same title, so even thought each piece is in a radically different style, you get a sense of there being some form of continuity through different peoples perceptions of the same theme” (Matt Bellamy, 2001, Link 1) This then also shows that even though there was meant to be some unity with there work there was still them ends which could have that confusion and this is where the viewer can get confused.
Overall I think that this message really communicates that you have to expect the unexpected with Muse as they really have a strong way to communicate with there audience using a lot of semiotics in there work, this gives them a really conceptual visual for there audience to look at, This helps to draw the attention of them whilst still communicating a message which in most ways delivers the message that the album holds.
There has been a range of album covers that have been analyzed through the use of encoding, de-‐coding also semiotics and finally Denotation and Connotation. These are both big ways in which I could make these entire album covers relate to each other even though they are a range of such a broad amount of years. The meaning of a album as I have stated in each of the descriptions of the covers can be confused when using the Encoding and Decoding style from Nick De Ville, one thing can be meant yet another depicted from a person artwork or messages themselves. This links in with how Album Covers have been made to be more conceptual to deliver a create image which draws in the attention of the viewer yet still has a message and meaning hidden within it. Album Covers use a mix of all of the above techniques to deliver this complete package which now is more of a accompaniment to the cd and someone which has become a commodity giving you a reason to want to own the album artwork as in this modern day you can easily download the music illegally for free, this is the artists work to try and counter this and give you more of a reason to want to purchase there work and have it as a collectable. This also shows how the album covers have advanced from when they first started out “the first batch of records had been packaged in paper sleeves” (Nick De Ville, 2003, pg32) All of these techniques mixed together have changed the way that people react towards buying an album in a more positive light; the commodity of an album cover may not be enough to make this the most effective method but along with the other functions which Nick De Ville Speaks about in his lectures they all start to make sense.
Roger Morton (2010) The Great Leap Forward, MUSE special collectors magazine, Limited Edition, Sep,
Storm Thorgerson & Aubery Powell (1999) One hundred best album covers, London, A Dorling Kindersley Book,
Muse Wiki (2011) Origin of Symmetry, London, www.musewiki.org/Origin_of_Symmetry_(album), (date accessed 20.01.12) Nick De Ville (2003) Album style and image in sleeve design, London, Mitchell Beazley ECM, (1996) Sleeves of desire, London, Lars Muller Publishers Ian Inglis (2001) Nothing you can see that isn’t shown, London, Cambridge University Press
this is my complete album cover essay which needed to be handed in for the preliminary deadline