The Art of Bad Cover Art

Posted June 11, 2013 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

Blame it on conspiracy or callous behavior, bad cover art has been around since the Beatles. And yet, it still haunts us.

I may need to take heed to the advice of Bruce Jenner. Recently the plastic-surgery-lovin’ sports star and Kardashian matriarch visited Jimmy Fallon’s late night set just to read him his Miranda Rights just because he’s fed up with being the laughing stock in his monologues. He suddenly calmed the comedic beast in Fallon when he mentioned that “Kanye isn’t happy.”

And we all know too well that Kanye isn’t someone you wanna upset. He doesn’t take criticism well.

And as he prepares to drop his highly-anticipated and robustly controversial album, Yeezus, most music critics are tight-lipped with dispatching their early advances of analytic journalism. It’s still too early to tell what the album will encompass, even if his two egomaniac performances on Saturday Night Live screamed “danger” and “brilliance” at the same time. Kanye is at this point in his career where he can do almost anything and basically can get away with it. He’s a brilliant rapper, an Ivy League magician who uses smart lyricism and braggadocios delivery. And his mistakes and mishaps only add spark to his enigma. The upcoming album will be judged for what it is, and that it should be. The recently-revealed album cover is another thing (or as we say deep Down South, a whole nutha thing).

I’ve seen worse. Oh, haven’t we all? Still, after we were just getting over the puzzling design of 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, we have to now confront this. The album cover is as simple as it gets. And as if Ye decided to not upset conservatives with himself on a rugged cross as the album title might suggest, he chooses to go the safe route by featuring a Google Image-like picture of a compact disc inside one of those cheap thin plastic cases (with what looks like a slop of brown vommit on top of it). More than likely, the compact disc of Yeezus will be inserted inside a standard compact disc case or maybe one of those 100 percent biodegradable recyclable boxes. But the excuse of putting something so generic and so cheap on a highly anticipated album like this speaks volumes. Is this some kind of a protest? Or is Ye doing what he does best, and that’s starting controversy or creating another #trendingtopic?

But West isn’t alone in this conversation on bad album art work. In fact, West’s choice of album art may be considered lazy, rather than bad. Earlier this year, The Strokes dropped Comedown Machine, their last album for RCA, and exposed a very generic piece of cover art that summarizes just how they really feel about their parent company. The NYC indie garage band may be reluctant in putting out their true feelings about the superpower of RCA, but the album cover may have said everything we need to know. It wasn’t terrible album cover art, but it paled in comparison to what we’ve witnessed on their previous albums.

History has shown us that bad cover art is more than likely attributed to the deep scorching ire coming from the artist. Especially if the artist has to record just one more album with a label they’ve grown disgusted at, hence the term “contractual obligation album.” Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear was one of those records. Look at the ambitious and dark album cover, and you can tell Mr. “Distant Lover” wasn’t happy with his soon-to-be-ex wife, Anna Gordy-Gaye.

Douglas Wolk, reporter at MTVHive, wrote that there was enough evidence to prove that the Strokes’ last record with RCA was their contractual obligation album. “They’ve also made no secret of the fact that this album concludes the five-album contract they signed with RCA back in 2001. Connect the dots, and this looks very much like a contractual obligation record — one that got made not because the Strokes wanted to make it, but because they had to.” The album cover may have been a dead giveaway. But even that album cover, along with Gaye’s Here, My Dear and even West’s Yeezus, is a blessing in disguise when compared with some of the more atrocious and disappointing album covers of our time.

Handpicking the worse of the bunch isn’t really hard to do. There’s websites out there totally dedicated to the worship of bad album cover art. But some of our favorite artists are guilty of making a visual train wreck for their music. Sadly, this trend really creates the painstaking discomfort of “judging a book by its cover.” Here’s just a handful of some of the worst albums that’s made it on the HiFi radar.


Warrior (2012)











Her wardrobe usually vexes our eyesight. Now its her choice of cover art.


Maroon 5
Overexposed (2012)








Slimy psychedelic graffiti is the best way to explain this piece of sloppy joe.


The Game
Jesus Piece (2012)











Now you have an excuse to miss church next Sunday.


Tyler the Creator
Wolf (2013)











There are no words to express how silly this cover looks. I too would cry “wolf” after seeing this.


Da Baddest Bitch (2000)











Looking back at the cover art of many hip-hop albums in the ’90’s reminds me so much of the blaxplotation movie posters of the ’70’s: gritty, low-budget and full of humor. On Trina’s debut album, she repeats the use of the Mystikal-Master P cookie cutter cover art regimen. If I ever am in need of resuscitation from this nurse, please let me depart in peace.


Ted Nugent
Love Grenade (2007)











Momma, looks what’s for dinner?


The Miracle (1999)











Makes you wonder if this “miracle” wasn’t one of the beasts mentioned in the book of Revelation.


Two Day Cinema Club
Beacon (2012)











What did Momma tell you about jumping up and down on her bed?


Lady Gaga
Born This Way (2010)








This is one Harley I won’t drive


The Beatles
Yesterday and Today (1966)











The Fab 4 ain’t all that fabulous. Especially when it comes to baby dolls and slabs of meat.


Death Grips
No Love Deep Web (2012)












Talking about ego stroking to the third degree.
Go to this Consequence of Sound link to see the NSFW image.


Hell Rell
For the Hell of It (2007)











A face only a momma will love. Not.


Millie Jackson
Back to the S**t (1989)











When you gotta go, you gotta go.


Chicken-N-Beer (2003)











KFC did not approve of this.


Walking and Dreaming (1976)











What the hell were they thinking? Looking like a bad Bel Ami orgy.
(and if you don’t know what Bel Ami is, please don’t Google it)


Front to Back (2013)











Then suddenly I hear a sin-phony.


Richard & Willie
Funky Honkey, Nasty Nigger (1975)











A menage a trios with dummies. And the biggest dummy is on their knees.


It’s virtually impossible to name all of the bad album covers out there.
But we want to know…
What are some of your worst album covers of all time?
Share your choices with us in the comments’ section below.


About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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