How to Look at Album Covers

© Copyright 2022, Sinead Gordon, Ryerson University

Have you ever heard someone say, “don’t judge a book by its cover?” Though it’s overused at times, It’s a saying that makes perfect sense. Picking a book based solely on its cover seems silly as it doesn’t change anything about what’s inside. And you might jump quickly to a connection that it’s the same for album covers. Since they don’t change what’s inside, what do they matter? While this on a surface level makes plenty of sense, in reality, album covers are much more important.

We tend to look at album covers as direct representations of what’s inside. While this is true in most cases, they aren’t dependent on each other. We can’t forget that album covers are their own art forms and can be just as valid and robust as the art of music itself. The album cover has a unique ability to carry multiple roles. It can serve as the perfect representation of the music it holds, it can be its own complex piece of art, and the list can go on. To look at album covers, it’s crucial to attempt to alter our perspective and try and find intention.

Radiohead. Kid A. Nigel Godrich Radiohead, 2000.

Let’s start this trail off by looking at Radiohead’s “Kid A.” If you have listened to this album before, try and forget everything you know and just look. There seems to be a dark night sky with soaring high snowy mountains. When you look even closer, you can see a mountain on fire or even a volcano of some sort in the background. You can also see the different uses of textures and tones; it looks so cold with the snowy mountains and seeming ice sheet, but there also appears to be a warm sun just barely peeking through in the background. Without even listening to the album, and from the cover solely on its own, we all individually have been able to formulate our opinions, predictions and emotions towards it. Now, in this case, if you do listen to the album you can find a definite connection between the two – as its musical content is very similar to what’s portrayed on its cover. They work hand in hand to illustrate something and even alter your initial ideas of the piece.

With that, these two forms of art were able to create a valid response that can be kept separate or can be connected together. That’s the beauty and importance of album covers. It’s almost like having two chances of analyzing art, with a possibility to enhance both. So, an album cover, can stand solely on its own. Just as an album’s musical content, can stand solely on its own. When two of these things work together, it can change so many aspects of the musical intention. And in the cases where the cover seems to have no relation to the musical content, it’s still a beautiful piece of art with the ability to challenge your framing in some ways. Album covers can have more power than you may think. Formulating your opinion on them before listening to them can enhance the music overall or even leave you more confused. How fun is that?

Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.

Works Cited

Elkin, James. Your Eyes. Routledge, 2000. Academia.Edu,

Radiohead. Kid A. Nigel Godrich Radiohead, 2000.