Friday, November 14, 2008

The Worst Album Covers: Hurts So Good

The Sun Sentinel Online has a brilliant collection of Amazingly BAD album covers. And yet, if the point of an album cover is to make you want to hear what lies behind it, these album covers succeed, if only because we want to hear what people who consciously decided to look like that might sound like. The covers are posted without comment, and at first blush I thought this was wise in a piece-of-crud-which-passeth-all-understanding sort of way. But the cultural richness of their awfulness is too valuable to leave untapped.

The Frivolous Five: Sour Cream and Other Delights

Herb Alpert's whipcream-clad sex kitten meets the Golden Girls in this filthy, nauseating image. These gals are a hoot, let me tell ya: Gardening, drinking Gin Fizzies, watching Jane Austen miniseries, singing naughty humorous songs at dinner clubs. Yikes.

You don't need to be an Islamic Fundamentalist to be deeply disturbed and . . . just offended, just really offended that someone is smearing this into your retinas. What the . . . ugh.

(Plastic Apple has taken a swing at this, too.)

Harry and Terry: Live

It is easy to forget, because it makes no sense, that one of the most successful radio programs of all time was a ventriloquist act: Edgar Bergan (Candice's Father) and Charlie McCarthy. It doesn't really explain the vast number of Ventriloquist act albums. Purgatorio puts Harry and Terry into context best, because -- unbelievably -- there is a whole subgenre of Christian Ministry Ventriloquism and the albums that record this bizarre cultural phenomenon. One can only imagine the number of times "Jesus ain't no dummy" gets said. Ventriloquism entertains us by presenting the spectacle of a performer interacting with himself through a puppet as though it were a separate consciousness. Hilarity ensues.

Chicken Coupe DeVille: Chicken Coupe de Ville

I tracked three possibilities on this:
1) it is photoshopped.
2) it is self-aware country irony (it does exist, especially in Rockabilly a la Southern Culture on the Skids)
3) it is "real"

All three are still possible, because the only evidence that this band actually exists is an effusive album review claiming that they are a rockabilly unit out of San Jose, California. I don't know if it's the same band. If it is: they rule.

No one can write a defense of Southern Culture without sounding like they are apologizing for Lee Atwater, but maybe I should try.

The Handless Organist: Truly A Miracle of God

Not for a moment do I want to imply anything but the deepest respect for a woman and a musician who faced incredible challenges and, to the greater glory of God, overcame them. But who made this album cover? Who looked at that and said, "Nailed it. Nailed. It. Gonna sell a million of these babies!" Who was that person? No one stopped them?

A number of the worst album covers feature projects by the disabled. I chose to comment on this one because it combines features that pop up again and again in the bad album cover collection: it is a recording by Christians for Christians and appears to have been designed by the altar guild. I also chose this one because I defy anyone to look at the picture and not hear an organ playing wrong notes. Seriously, I think this is an interesting thought experiment. Try to look at the image and not hear dissonance as though a cat were walking across the keyboard.

Freddie Gage: All My Friends Are Dead

Freddie Gage is an outreach minister from Texas who specializes in preaching to criminals, those addicted to drugs and alcohol, and prisoners. In a testimonial blurb on his website we are assured by one of his friends that the title is true. Um, well, you know, one of his living friends.

Ironic appreciation and genuine appreciation are closely related: if you genuinely appreciate the irony, it is just as sincere as genuine appreciation. And who among us that genuinely appreciates the almost ineffable irony of this image (behold the white tie, white socks, and white shoes, behold the wind-tunnel-tested hair, ask the unanswerable questions -- is that really a friend's grave? If not, whose grave is it?) does not feel a genuine appreciation for the uncompromising boldness and forthright friendly/confrontational manner of a Blood Red statement on a blue-sky background: "All My Friends Are Dead"?

Steve Warren: Reflection.

Not many people give you a mugshot on the album cover. Nor, despite the title, could there be a greater visual representation of coming so close to self-consciousness and just missing it. Steve Warren is still performing. He plays Las Vegas behind Wayne Newton. Newton quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson to praise Warren: "Greatness is he that reminds you of no other." Indeed. The Incomparable Steve Warren. A polished steel name for a man of polished steel.

The jacket: members only? The shirt: pink marble pattern or blood stained? The chin? Double, baby. The moustache ain't exactly Magnum, P.I. but it is stylin'. I think his hair is freshly permed. He makes that face ceaselessly.