An album cover often influences the way that the listener will hear the music inside. If the cover is designed effectively, it may even enhance the experience of the music inside. Most importantly, the covers on the outside and the music on the inside should do one another justice. Here are some album covers that I find particularly effective at rebranding their artists’ personas.
“Voodoo” – D’Angelo (2000)
D’Angelo is known to many as the man who helped to save R&B from itself during the mid-to-late 90s. While many other artists repackaged R&B & Hip-Hop, he redefined Soul music for the Hip-Hop era. “Voodoo” is seen by many as his crowning achievement.
The stylings of “Voodoo” are modern, but deeply respectful of artists of the past. The album’s warm, slightly dusty production complements it well. This cover is similarly dusty, just like the old soul records D’Angelo once spent his days pulling off the shelves in his parents’ house.
The album was born out of marijuana-smoked jam sessions, and studio chatter litters the album. The miscellaneous writing on the cover and the deliberately unpolished look reflect this deeply human set of songs.
“Voodoo” made D’Angelo a star. Although he is an immensely talented artist, the rebranding of his image played an enormous part in that stardom. When D’Angelo’s first album, “Brown Sugar” released in 1995, he was a fresh-faced, pudgy 21-year-old. D’Angelo’s team masterminded a different persona for “Voodoo” using selective imagery and personal and a personal trainer for D’Angelo. The typography, combined with the photo of a shirtless, muscular, and stone-faced D’angelo, suggests the slightly-edgy-yet-vulnerable sound of his Hip-Hop-era soul. This D’Angelo made the “loverman” side of D’Angelo even more explicit than the man behind the music wanted. This worked very well with the album’s smash hit single “Untitled (How Does It Feel),” which ended up being one of the most impactful loverman songs of the year, and ultimately, the new millennium.
While “Voodoo” is currently settling into “modern classic” status in 2015, the cover feels classic already.
“Devotion” – Jessie Ware (2012)
“Devotion” applied disarming, impactful branding to a formerly ordinary woman for a lush, confident, and comforting album. That’s a lot of adjectives, but this minimalist cover says so much. Jessie Ware was formerly a backup singer. In personal interviews, Jessie Ware seemed like a mannered friend. She got slightly nervous and spoke with endearing honesty. And she never failed to evoke class.
The Jessie Ware of “Devotion” has many of those same lovable attributes, minus the nervousness. On her cover, Ware looks like a queen without need for a crown. The album persona is bold, but never aggressive; she retains Ware’s endearing quality. The typeface reflects this attribute well. Ware sings about love with a powerful and delicate voice, surrounded by bright and airy soundscapes. The cover reflects the sound production; every element in the composition is given plenty of whitespace. This carries over to the stylish type and its generous kerning. The black and white aesthetic takes the classiness to impressive levels. “Devotion” is a great makeover if I ever saw one.