The Slow Renaissance

Norb Rozek

norb rozek | spin sessions | june 2019

For as celebrated a medium as Rock Album Graphics are, there are certainly vast periods of history where the misses far outnumber the hits. While there's definitely nothing amiss with the cover art on “Here's Little Richard” or the first Elvis album, everyone with an eye for such matters knows that the realgraphic razz-ma-tazz of the 1950s took place on jazz — not rock & roll — album covers, when graphic titans like Jim Flora ruled the eyeballs of the planet. As impactful as the music of the 1960s remains, the album covers of the day were often much more blah than history lets on: I'll give you “Meet The Beatles” and “Let It Bleed” (and, for that matter, “Evolution” by the Hollies and “Easy” by the Easybeats), but what was so great about “Beatles For Sale” or “Between The Buttons” or “The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society”? The '70s, of course, were completely gross until punk came along (check out the first album covers by the Ramones, Clash and Damned — that's how it's done, boyee!), but by the '80s, punk had dropped the ball, moving from low-budget to no-budget and the graphics suffering accordingly. There were some nice looking albums that decade (Tracey Ullman's “You Broke My Heart in 17 Places” was always a favorite), but they were generally in a kitschy, '50s/'60s throwback style that rarely aged well. In the '90s, the explosion of independent record labels loosed a veritable onslaught of wacked-out creative talent on the record-buying public, with artist/designer types like Art Chantry, Cliff Mott, Darren Merinuk and Coop creating an exuberant trash culture look that was — somehow — simultaneously both a new visual language and the same old visual garbage. By Y2K, file sharing had replaced vinyl buying; strewn amidst the collateral damage incurred by this cultural tectonic shift was the concept of cool-looking album covers. Boo.

We are now less than a year away from the 2020s. Vinyl is “back,” or so they tell me. Album sales are up, and a rising tide floats all boats — it is reasonable to assume we're due for a renaissance of cool-looking album covers. It is also reasonable to mention that said renaissance is certainly taking its own sweet time arriving. In the '90s, I would go to the record store every Friday evening and buy any new arrival that had a cover that caught my eye. I'd usually walk out with three albums and a half dozen or so singles. A week.If I pursued that same strategy today, I might buy one record a month. Ergo, whenever I dofeel compelled to buy an album on the strength of its cover art alone, it fills my soul with a renewed (if probably misplaced) sense of optimism — optimism that we've turned a corner, that we're on the upswing, that Happy Days Are Here Again, something along those lines. This brings me to Brad Marino's “Extra Credit” album. The album itself is fine — think “Road To Ruin” Ramones crossed with the Greg Kihn Band (if possible) — but I will freely admit that I bought it mostly because I liked the cover (the fact that Brad is in The Connection, a fine New England outfit, didn't hurt). On said cover, we have a photo of the arteeste standing in the corner of a make-believe room created by intersecting planes of maroon, aqua and off-white; above him is his name in big, chunky type. The letters in “BRAD,” in the maroon area, alternate color between white and aqua. I LOVE this effect; it's used on 1959 football cards and 1960 baseball cards. Meanwhile, the letters in “MARINO,” over the aqua area, alternate color between white and … white?

Not to put too fine a point on it, but … WHAT THE FRICK?

Why are the letters in “BRAD” alternating colors, but the letters in “MARINO” just white? This adheres to no visual logic whatsoever! This inequality defies everything I learned from reading “Spy vs. Spy”!Why have you done this to me, Brad Marino? Why? WHY?? Veritably aflame with curiosity, I tracked down Brad Marino on Facebook and asked him myself: “Why does B-R-A-D go white-aqua-white-aqua, but M-A-R-I-N-O goes white-white-white-white-white-white?” He responded, “A huge opportunity lost! Maybe next time!” I couldn't quite tell if he was sincere in his appreciation of the lost opportunity's hugeness or was merely humoring me. Either way, I remain woefully unfulfilled. This is gonna be one slow-ass renaissance.

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