Judging albums by their cover

The Dirty Three: Whatever You Love, You Are

I look at this album cover and wonder, ‘Why can’t all album covers be this beautiful?’ The best answer of course, is that not all bands are The Dirty Three. If there is one thing that separates them from the herd, in a musical sense, is their strong sense of craftmanship. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about that term ‘craftmanship’ about how it applies to me in terms of expression and art (designers tend to dwell on such things, I think it’s a reaction against self-expression vs earning a wage).
When we’re young, everyone does art at school (and usually just for the fun of it). It’s the fundamental tool of learning how to express yourself, unlocking the mysteries of life through finger-paints and paddlepop sticks. It usually ends there with most people unless they have that spark or inner self determination to continue improving and experimenting with their ‘art-skills’ It’s unusual in that it’s one of the few things you partake in at an early educational level that is not carried through with. All kids play with balls, and through their years of learning, the ‘craft’ of physical education is encouraged, so at least you’re skilled enough to kick a football or hit a ball with a tennis racket. This is the same with reading, computer skills, spelling – it just seems really weird that most people stop at the finger-paints.

As a designer – I’m one of those kids that decided to carry that journey on beyond the finger-paints, to hone ‘my craft’ if you will. I was never really interested in the intellectual side of ‘art’ when I was growing up. It was more of a matter of seeing something and appreciating the skill that went into producing it, whether that was a cartoon, a comic book or magazine illustration I stumbled upon. I never thought of myself as producing ‘art’ growing up – if I even thought of putting a title on what I did, it was illustration, cartooning, or just drawing – my interest wasn’t in ‘art for art sake’ but in creating something with a purpose, my explorations were always aimed at the creation of comic books, picture books, posters. So before I even knew what I was, I was a ‘designer’ I guess. It’s amazing how much that has influenced how I look and feel upon the visual world around me. I don’t really differentiate between craft and art. I can appreciate the beauty of a well considered and thoughtfully designed annual report as much as I can appreciate the beauty of the strokes in Monet’s water lilies. What is the link that ties both things together for me then? The important criteria is that they make me feel something, before I delve into whether that annual report is actually clearly defining that year’s stats to the shareholders, or Monet’s tenants on Impressionism, I want to be moved by them before I wish to explore them more.

Which (long-windedly!) brings me back to the album ‘Whatever You Love, You Are’. The cover’s Van Gogh-like use of thick paintstrokes and gobs of colours instantly draws me into further examination of the albums contents. A listen to it makes it obvious this is a beautiful album that has been well served by a beautiful cover. The painting effectively highlights the emotional expressiveness of tracks like ‘I Offered It Up To The Stars And Night Skies’ but is still naive and rough enough around the edges to properly serve a track like ‘I Really Should’ve Gone Out Last Night’. The layered paint strokes are an indication of the added layers of orchestration that have been incorporated with Warren Ellis’ violin, but you’re still reminded that this is no grandiose symphony performance, by the subtle placement of the band’s name in the bottom right hand corner.

The cover and the music are a perfect amalgamation of craftsmanship and art – both can be appreciated for the skill involved in producing them and the means in which they can move you, that rare accomplishment, an album cover that gives you the feel of the music before a note is played.