Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The five worst Lou Reed album covers of all time

When people discuss great album cover art of the rock era, Lou Reed’s name doesn’t exactly fly to the forefront. Except for maybe the knock-off Warhol portrait on Transformer, Lou’s album visuals have never achieved anything like iconic status. As a tireless Lou apologist, I’m personally fond of quite a few of his covers. The contemptuous bad-assery of Street Hassle and the trippy interactivity of Set the Twilight Reeling are particular favorites, though I might like the back cover of Sally Can’t Dance best of all. I can’t deny, however, that flipping through the Lou Reed section at your local record store will likely produce more groans than grins. In honor of Lou’s 69th birthday, I’ve compiled my choices for the five worst covers in his extensive oeuvre.

Ecstasy (2000)
I actually rather like the design of this one. It’s stark and simple, the fonts are well chosen and the red-and-black color scheme is quite striking. None of that offsets the fact that the combination of photo and title gives the distinct impression that we’re looking at Lou Reed’s O-face. As big a fan as I am, that’s something I never needed to see.

New York (1989)
He’s hip, he’s cool, he’s 46! And there are five of him for some reason.

New Sensations (1984)
I suppose there are ways Lou could have made this cover more instantly dated. Maybe throw in a gigantic jambox, some Wacky Wallwalkers, a couple of Smurfs… But why mess with a good thing? If nothing else, this artwork allows us to ponder the awesome possibilities of Lou Reed: The Game. I’m sure it would’ve been at least as much fun as the Atari E.T. game.

Growing Up in Public (1980)
“OK, Lou, if you want to go get changed, we’ll get this cover shoot in the bag.”
“I don’t need to change.”
“Oh... So you wanted to take the picture wearing that, um, olive green v-neck sweatshirt?”
“That’s right.”
“Huh. You sure? I mean, it kind of looks like you just got in from raking the leaves or something.”
[Grim silence.]
“Yeah… OK… I can work with that. Just let me change out this cheesy red backdrop. We had a high school yearbook shoot in here this morning.”
“Just take the fucking picture.”

Mistrial (1986)
For a man who’s spent the better part of two decades wearing leather jackets and sunglasses, Lou sure looks awkward wearing that leather jacket and those sunglasses. If you didn’t know who Lou Reed was, this could easily be mistaken for a publicity still for that weird guy who works the night shift at the supermarket and responds to every “Guitarist wanted” ad in the back of the local alt-weekly. This photo is so hokey that it almost seems defensive, as if Lou is announcing to the world, “I don’t give two shits what anybody says – I still fucking rock!”

(Note: If I were to compile the Five Greatest Lou Reed Album Covers of All-Time, Mistrial would occupy the number one slot on that list as well, for exactly the same reasons.)