Nevermind the music, let’s judge this iconic album by its cover


Nevermind the music, let’s judge this iconic album by its cover

This is the story of one of the greatest rock albums ever made

Neil McCormick

Nirvana released only three albums during the short life of their leader, Kurt Cobain. The group’s impact was phenomenal, rebooting rock with a primal power that restored guitar music’s standing as an artistic, generational and commercial force. But it came at a terrible cost to Cobain himself, who died by his own hand in April 1994, aged 27.

The covers of those three albums tell a story in themselves. Nirvana rose in the age of the CD, when the most effective covers essayed conceptual and graphic simplicity to adapt to a shrunken packaging space, down from vinyl’s 12-inch square to less than 5” x 5”.

Released on American independent label Sub Pop in 1989, Nirvana’s debut, Bleach, features a black-and-white negative image of a frenetic live shot, laid out with a cheap and nasty punk feel reflecting the raw aesthetic of the nascent Seattle grunge scene. The Onyx typeface was chosen simply because it was already installed in the typesetting machine at free local paper The Rocket, where designer Lisa Orth worked. By the time of Nirvana’s final studio album, 1993’s In Utero, on major label Geffen, that cheap logo had become a global brand, much to the confusion of conflicted singer, guitarist and songwriter Cobain. “We’re so trendy, we can’t even escape ourselves,” he complained as Nirvana’s anti-establishment, emotionally nihilistic rock became the soundtrack of the times. In Utero’s provocative cover depicted an anatomical model with angel wings, its visible internal organs creating a graphic image of physical and emotional exposure. The album’s working title was I Hate Myself and I Want to Die...

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