When ´Isn’t our life just great?´ means ´I’ll rip your f***ing head off´

Behind the scenes of intriguing album artwork by Stefan Sagmeister

Stefan Sagmeister is a visual artist who designs album covers that not only attract attention, but also contain a twist, a surprise or a hidden message. He works closely with musicians and adapts the designs to each musical project to reflect the character of their albums through visual means. Sagmeister created his first album artwork in the 80´s and since then, he´s collaborated with such artists as Lou Reed, The Rolling Stones, Jay Z., Brian Eno, David Byrne, Pat Metheny and many more.

He believes that album artwork went through a period of neglection with the rise of the CD format, when record companies tried to shrink the designs from 12” size and put it onto CD covers, which unfortunately didn´t work in many cases. Luckily, when visual artists began to create album cover designs with the smaller format in mind, the marriage of music and visuals became a happy one again.

Below, we present some of the many outstanding album covers designed by Stefan Sagmeister.

H.P. Zinker - Mountains of Madness

To reflect the emotional and musical contrasts that you can hear on Mountains of Madness, Sagmeister decided to give the album cover two faces - literally. Inside the red plastic sleeve, the face of the man has a perfectly indifferent expression. However, by taking the paper album cover out of the sleeve, you release the dormant devil.

The same trick was applied to the CD itself. Depending on whether you look at it through the red plastic sleeve or not, the message on it can read ´We get up at noon and go for a bite. Isn’t our life just great?´ or ´I’ll rip your fucking head off and I’ll shit down your neck´. Quite a difference, isn´t it;)

H.P. Zinker Mountains of Madness

Talking Heads - Remain in Light

Before Talking Heads released ´Remain in Light´, they had just changed the marketing manager. Sagmeister didn´t get along with him because he wouldn´t open his mind to some more unusual ideas for the album cover, which is fair enough because Sagmeister wanted to create a cover in the form of… a marble-like bust with the head of a monkey. The response to this suggestion was that it wouldn´t fit into the CD bin so as a ´f*** you´, the visual artist designed a booklet that was as long as the original bust was supposed to be, just slim enough for the CD bin. It actually sold quite well so we can only imagine what a precious piece that bust would have been for album artwork collectors.

Talking Heads Box Set

Lou Reed – Set the Twilight Reeling

Lou Reed was going through a transformation in his personal life when he was recording ´Set the Twilight Reeling´. Reed went to Sagmeister´s flat to ask him in person to design the cover for this album. The artwork required a unique touch that would be a reflection of Lou Reed´s character. The two artists agreed that the best way to show the deeply personal tone of this album was to use a photo of the musician and to put some handwriting on his face. The first words you can see just under the title are ´Take me for what I am´, which is a perfect allusion to the deep and unconditional love Lou Reed had just found by Laurie Anderson´s side.

Lou Reed Set the Twilight Reeling album artwork

Pat Metheny - Imaginary Day

The ethereal music of Pat Metheny calls for album artwork that is anything but straightforward. For his Imaginary Day, Sagmeister decided to design a cover with an image substitution cipher. It comes with a key and if you want to dive into it, you can read the messages included on the album cover and even read a short essay by Metheny and Rodby. Metheny´s fans not only couldn´t see the track list of the album before buying it. Nowhere on the cover does it say that it´s Pat Metheny´s album! All you can see are pictographs. Still, the album sold really well, which is the best proof of the deep trust between Metheny and his fans.

Pat Metheny Imaginary Day album artwork

Stefan Sagmeister has an extensive, private collection of vinyls and CD albums and he says that in the majority of the cases, it´s the visual part that attracts him first.

I buy by cover only. And it´s very rare that a very good cover packages music that´s awful.

Stefan Sagmeister

As a designer, he also has a deep understanding of the complexity and difficulties behind the creation of album artwork. ‘The more cooks, the more difficult it becomes’, says Sagmeister.

At Covercrush we are very aware of how difficult and time-consuming the creative process might be so we do our best to help both musicians and visual artists save time and money, while staying faithful to the love for art.

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