Sunday, 2 October 2011

The Lost Art.

Sometimes it is hard to deny that the old ways are the best. While this may be true of many things, there is a definite romanticism of a time gone by when - while it may or may not have been the case Рthere was a sense of quality, truth and simplistic beauty in the way people lived and the way that things were produced. This is certainly the way I feel about music, and while it may be a bit of a clich̩ to declare that the greatest albums were made prior to the turn of the 21st century, if not long before, what I am mainly talking about here is the evolution of the physical (and digital) musical format and subsequent loss of album artwork.

The cover of a great album has shown itself to have the capacity to become as iconic as the music itself, with images such as The Dark Side of the Moon prism and the Abbey Road zebra crossing being forever etched on public conciseness – perhaps in these cases, even identifiable by those few who have not listened to the albums themselves. This is why I believe one of the most distressing things about the rise of the mp3 to be, aside from the ease at which we evade honouring an album by playing it in its entirety, that there is no longer the appreciation of album artwork.

Long have I fantasised about what it must have been like in the golden-age of vinyl, at which time you would leave your front door with enough money in your pocket to head down to the local music shop to purchase the latest album release by your favourite band. Racing down the aisles to the new release section and gripping that glorious physical 12 inch square piece of art in your hands for the first time, before racing home and devouring it with your eyes and ears as you pour over the sleeve and inserts within. Call me nostalgic, but that’s got to be better than a click of the mouse as £8.99 is removed from your bank account in exchange for an invisible musical concept.

While the ipod is a fantastic thing and fabulous in many ways, it is hard not to overlook the fact that all the wonderful artwork, new and old, is now being forgotten and overlooked thanks to the confides of a thumbnail image. Not only this, but it marks the death of the back cover (the qualities of which were often found in its ability to portray a brilliant photograph or image which never quite made the cut of the front). It is a real shame that album artwork isn’t getting the appreciation that it deserves these days, both in terms of the fantastic pieces that are still being produced, and also for those people who are currently discovering the wonderful music of the past fifty years, but yet not getting the whole sensory experience.

It might be worth arguing that at least with albums of the vinyl, and even CD eras, they have had their time and appreciation in larger formats, and the real crime is that brilliant new pieces are never escaping out of the confides of a 2.5 cm square. I was reminded of this most recently when I purchased Florence and The Machine’s album Lungs on vinyl, and was blown away by the richness and detail of an album cover which I already knew to be beautiful, but had never been able to appreciate it for its true splendour. Formatted in a gatefold, filled with stunning imagery and plentiful sleeve notes, it really takes a generous amount of time to take it all in - the only shame being that it won’t reach a wider audience.

As is the case with Lungs, it is great to see that artists and record companies are still producing vinyl copies of their albums, and this is due in part to the resurgence in popularity of old formats. I’m incredibly pleased that there is still a great passion and interest in these things, and that even those brought up in the digital age are keen to appreciate music as it was intended, and I really hope this trend continues.

Below I have included eight album covers; four pre-digital and four post, yet all equally brilliant and worthy of attention. Feel free to click on each of them to appreciate them in high resolution.


Patti Smith - Horses


Pink Floyd - Animals


Blondie - Parallel Lines

Suede - Dog Man Star


MGMT - Oracular Spectacular


Pete Doherty - Grace Wastelands


Florence and The Machine - Lungs


Biffy Clyro - Only Revolutions

1 comment:

  1. Nice post, I've blogged on a similar topic here: Cover art in the digital age.

    While digital can't replace the tactile sensations of old school LPs (especially with the likes of album covers made of sandpaper etc, see Factory Records) I also think you shouldn't confine 'digital' to mean 'ipod'.

    Sure, iPods are pervasive these days, but they aren't the only way to listen to computer audio. There are more and more big screen devices that work at high resolution where you can see the art in all its glory.

    Often the main problem is in acquiring the high resolution art... most art online is lower resolution although also check out http://www.albumartexchange.com . You often end up scanning the art, which makes a good analog to ripping music from CD, which still needs to be done because so many online stores refuse to sell CD quality music.

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