Saturday, February 5, 2011

Hipgnosis Selected Album Covers Part 3: 1977-1982

So this is the third and final part (unless I do some more) of my look at the design team of Hipgnosis. 75 covers in all, and these last 25 show the problem that besets anyone who develops an individual style: as fashion moves on, it creates a double-bind: doing what you do best creates work that looks dated, but meeting the new stylistic demands means abandoning the style that made you distinctive. And thus you lose your raison d'être.

There's no easy solution, and Hipgnosis couldn't find it. By the time they broke up in 1982, they were clearly adrift, and breaking up was the right thing to do. But the individual members of Hipgnosis, in particular Storm Thorgerson, carried on making covers. Which means sooner or later I might do a 'solo years' compendium, too.

In the mean time, also check out Hipgnosis: The Early Years and Hipgnosis: The Middle Years.

Warning: this particular entry is quite graphics-intensive, since in some cases I've chosen covers with particularly high resolution (blown-up once you click on them). It might take a while to load and it might take a Ctrl-R or two. Worth it, though.

Can this cheesy piece of garbage really be Hipgnosis?

Hipgnosis did a fair number of Genesis covers, but I find most of them boring. This is just as hazy and whitewashed as the rest - moreso, which is perhaps why it intrigues. Just a tree, and... no, wait. It doesn't intrigue.

This bloated poodle calls himself 'the red rocker', after a song called 'Red' on this album, informally called 'the red album'. Everything in this picture is red, but the photo is not tinted. Everything just happens to be red. Photoshop, where were you in the 1970s?

A pretty picture - well, actually a horribly picture of the band looking like nitwits - becomes a pretty cover through, well, what is it? Grainy photographic film? Pencil sketching? Anyway, it's a pretty black-and-white with cool long shadows.

Another Floyd album, another classic cover. This is the 'floating pig' cover: Roger Waters had a handful of songs comparing modern society to animals, and as such the cover featured the Battersea Power Station, looking about as dark and evil and Dickensian an example of 'modern society' you could find. The surreal touch is the floating pig, and while a few daubs of pink paint on the photograph might have done the trick, Waters and Hipgnosis went ahead and actually commissioned a helium inflatable pig, which then proceeded to break loose of its moorings and float away, only to land in some poor farmer's field. True story. Wonderful cover.

Peter Gabriel's first self-titled solo album and first collaboration with Hipgnosis. It's raindrops on the hood of a car with Peter Gabriel barely visible through the windshield (or windscreen as they call it over there). Not the best Peter Gabriel cover, but it's still very pretty.

There's a cheap 1970s sci-fi aspect to a lot of Hipgnosis's covers, something that seems dated and unappealing to me. So there's squiggles all over here, and we're probably supposed to imagine cold fusion or something is happening there (the album name references subatomic particles). The only real thing that interests me is that this is the inside of our old friend Battersea Power Station, where a giant pig recently flew.

This is one of those great Hipgnosis abstracts - bright colours, basic geometric shapes: boring as a painting, but this is a photograph

A Pink Floyd solo album named after nocturnal emissions, but the cover is blander. There's some female booby on the back cover, but even that's bland. It's a swimming pool, a drink, some guy's shorts, and a toy model ship. And that naked breast (you don't get to see it, ha ha). But nothing makes it less than bland and sun-drenched.

This is nice. Simple, indeed conventional. There's trees and a rustic building, but there's snow everywhere, so while it's pastoral, it's not dewy-eyed. Gilmour is up front looking working-class, and two other guys - perhaps his solo band but perhaps meant to suggest his bandmates in the on-the-back-burner Pink Floyd - stand around behind him.

Old women standing around looking statuesque with Easter Island statues for earrings. This probably means something, though for the life of my I can't guess quite what. Old... The Easter Island statues are old. The River Styx is old. The women are old.

This regularly shows up in discussions of cover art - the cover is more famous than the album within (possibly XTC's least notable). It's a clever-clever 'meta' joke. Click on it, make it big, and read it. There's not much more that I can say. It's good, but it doesn't do the job an album cover should: it doesn't complement the album, or even better yet enhance the album itself. It actually detracts from it by competing with it. The Dark Side of The Moon makes a great poster to hang on university dorm walls; this hangs nowhere.

Hey look! It's the 1970s raining onto the 1980s! And so whoever Renaissance are, they get two covers in one: a prog-rock duotone of trees, and a brightly-coloured portrait of Annie Lennox. And stripey stripes running diagonally across the front. A for effort.

Ths is interesting. It's two suits looking sinister, with ball bearings over their eyes, noses and mouth. There's a long-haired guy who's unfortunately got no balls. This is the kind of cover that probably came instinctively to Hipgnosis: take a standard photo and weird it up somehow. I doubt it's meant to 'mean' anything at all, but it's an arresting image.

This came out in 1979. Prog and singer-songwriter were out, new wave was in, bringing with it a completely new visual aesthetic. Hipgnosis gamely tried to keep up, but stuff like this was fooling no-one. This is a decent enough cover, but it's derivative; it copies looks instead of designing new looks. And it's long-time clients UFO again, and no one is going to confuse them with new wave.

Hipgnosis's most infamous, but I have to say I'm not as offended and angered by it as a lot of people. Yeah, it's juvenile. But I'm not sure there are intimations of violence against women here - I mean, this is bubble gum we're talking about. A man and a woman are in a limousine, both well-dressed. Her breast is connected to his hand via bubble gum. Sure, his expression is a bit dark and hers is a bit vacant, but again all I see is juvenile nudge-nudge-wink-wink silliness. And let's have some context here: this is Scorpions, for Christ's sake. At least it's not a naked child with broken glass across her crotch.

Not sure why this one works: all it is is a cheesy gas-pump leans ad with certain elements whited out (the back cover follows the same idea with band members). But the end-result is classy and enigmatic, even if it today seems very much of its era.

This is probably Hipgnosis's 'greatest hit' - the detail involved is amazing. The inner sleeve was black-and-white but impregnated with dye that sprang to full colour when made wet. The front and back cover show a dour scene in a bar populated by random characters, with a man at the centre lighting a piece of paper on fire. But there are actually six different covers, each depicting the scene from the perspective of a different character. In each case, the image is more-or-less sepia, with a 'lick of paint' across the paper-burning man rendering it true colour. And the whole package came presented in a paper bag (like a lunch bag) stamped with the name of the album. Very nice, from top to bottom. I'm showing only one of the six covers here - the 'most famous' one that was kept on the CD reissue, that ignored all of this complexity.

This would be a profoundly uninteresting cover for an album called "Are You Normal". But it is in fact the cover for 10cc's Look Hear?, and the name is present on the cover, in red and yellow across the top, the only thing apart from a tiny picture of a sheep on a chaise longue on the cover except for those huge three words which are not the title of the album. This makes it profoundly interesting, clever, and undoubtedly an annoyance for record store owners.

One of Hipgnosis's best-ever covers, this is the result of a happy accident: a realisation that if you took a picture with a Polaroid instant camera (the kind where the picture would develop of its own accord within a minute or two of your taking it) and then took to pressing down on and scraping the surface of the picture as it developed, all kinds of interesting effects could be had. This is sometimes called the 'melt' album because of this cover, where the effect seems to be that Gabriel's face is made of wax and is melting. Striking, memorable and distinctive.

One final piece of work for the Floyd, a compilation album of dubious merit, given a tongue-in-cheek title: Pink Floyd are no dance band, you see, and the cover design takes up that particular gauntlet, with a dancing couple tied down by guy wires. Beautiful scene, too: where do they find all these old dilapidated buildings?

This apparently was actually designed for an entirely different album, one by Black Sabbath, who rejected it. Their loss, as it's classic Hipgnosis, seven field doctors, one removing his gloves: it should be boring. The reason it isn't is the undeniably sinister feel to it. Anyone at all afraid of doctors will shiver when they see this cover.

A silly idea - if you don't get the joke, it's that instead of a human reading fantastic tales about aliens, it's an alien reading about humans. Except that this is Roger Taylor of Queen, so the humanity is questionable. The cuteness factor isn't, though, which is why I'm willing to give the album cover the benefit of the doubt: that alien is way cuter than the prettyboy on the magazine.

This was one of Hipgnosis's final covers, released 1982. I think it's safe to say they'd lost the plot by then, as this has none of their personality. It's literal and ugly.

So very simple, this one. The Eye of Horus, a heiroglyph with various meanings and associations in ancient Egypt. Here it just matches that title track. Until budget reissues, the eye was gold foil, which is why you'll see all sorts of shades of gold if you Google this cover.