The best album covers of the 1990s
20 April 2023, 20:00
In the decade when vinyl lost out to CD and then digital downloads, the humble album cover still managed to innovate and dazzle. Here are some of the best designs from the 90s.
Massive Attack - Mezzanine
For this landmark trip hop album, photographer Nick Knight took photos of various beasties in the Natural History Museum and designer Tom Hingston created an impossible creature via the medium of digital collage. Enough to give entomophobes the heebie jeebies.
Pulp - Different Class
"We don't want no trouble, we just want the right to be different. That's all." For their breakthrough 1995 album, Jarvis Cocker had photographer Donald Milne gatecrash the wedding of Dom and Sharon O'Connor's wedding in Surrey in August 1995. Placed carefully among the congregation were the cut-out figures of each band member, taken by fashion photographer Rankin.
The Chemical Brothers - Surrender
The Chems' third album in 1999 bore a cover that featured a photo taken by Richard Young at the Great British Music Festival at London's Olympia across New Year 1976. The image was turned into a silkscreen by artist Kate Gibb and musician Ed Simons felt that the image of one guy getting into the tunes while the others remained seated summed up the Brothers' selective appeal. The festival was headlined by Status Quo, Procol Harum and Bad Company - which one is he grooving to?
New Order - Republic
1993 was a landmark year for the veteran Manchester band. Their label, Factory, had gone bust the year before and their sixth album was to be the first for major London Records. The band's long-term designer Peter Saville had moved to California and the sleeve art seems to reflect the riots that plagued the city at the time - burning houses on one side, blissed-out beach fun on the other. Saville used stock images to great effect.
My Bloody Valentine - Loveless
Blurred, kinetic, confused - Angus Cameron's photography for the acclaimed shoegaze classic reflects the sonic chaos lurking inside the sleeve.
Nirvana - Nevermind
Probably the most famous image of the 1990s, little Spencer Elden goes swimming in pursuit of a dollar bill. Taken by photographer Kirk Weddle, who took just 11 frames of the boy in the water, t's a clumsy metaphor to be sure, but what a memorable photo.
Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream
A hazy photo of two girls - Ali Laenger and LySandra Roberts - eating popsicles on a summer's day in Los Angeles in 1993 housed this epic album.
Beck - Odelay
Joan Rigby took a photo of a Komondor dog taking a leap over a fence for the July 1977 issue of the American Kennel Club's monthly magazine... and the picture later ended up being used for Beck Hansen's fifth album in 1996.
Red Hot Chili Peppers - Blood Sugar Sex Magik
The Chilis liked tattoos, so why not get champion inker Henk Schiffmacher to design a logo for the band's classic 1991 album? Henky Penky aka Hanky Panky had tattooed Anthony Kiedis and Kurt Cobain, so it was a very "grunge" look. Film director Gus Van Sant took the photos for the package.
Primal Scream - Screamadelica
The distinctive figure on the sleeve of the Scream's breakthrough album was designed by painter Paul Cannell, who also provided images for the Higher Than The Sun and Don't Fight It Feel it singles. He'd also worked with Manic Street Preachers. Cannell took his own life in July 2005, but his work lives on.
Pixies - Bossanova
The Boston band had a long-running association with label 4AD's house designer Vaughan Oliver and photographer Simon Larbalestier. 1989's Doolittle had distressed and destroyed objects photographed in sepia tones, but the follow-up featured a glittering globe that reflected the space and UFO obsessions in the lyrics of Black Francis.
Depeche Mode - Violator
A blood red rose on a jet black background - is there dark music within? You bet there is. Photographer Anton Corbijn gave substance to the Basildon band's ambitions to be a more serious act as the 90s dawned - and they got a stylish cover in the process.
The Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin
This was - incredibly - Wayne Coyne and co's ninth album - and the sleeve used a photo from a 1966 copy of Life magazine, concerning the old LSD. It features poet Neal Cassady dancing with his own shadow while tripping - while the typography and the classic Warner Brothers shield logo complete the vintage look.
Blur - Parklife
The front cover of greyhound racing was taken on 2 November 1988 at Romford Stadium, Essex, by sports photographer Bob Thomas. “He couldn’t believe we wanted it for a record cover,” recalled designer Rob O’Connor. “I’m sure if he’d thought about it he’d have asked for a bit more money.” Damon Albarn had been inspired to re-create a betting shop window after wandering past a William Hill’s bookmakers.
The Breeders - Last Splash
The death of designer Vaughan Oliver in 2019 left a huge hole in the music community - here's one of his most luscious designs, using rich photography by Jason Love, for Kim and Kelley Deal's second album.
Aphex Twin - The Richard D. James Album
Richard James's mate, designer Johnny Clayton collaborated with the musician on this super-creepy, super-memorable cover. It gave the anonymous world of electronica a personality... but not necessarily one you'd like to spend too much time hanging out with.