‘Sleeve designers’ are a mixed bunch. Their remit is to make the product look as attractive as possible to its intended market to help shift more units in an increasingly commercialised world. They often fail, and sometimes the musician is to blame for exerting undue influence, but I doubt that is the case here.
I don’t know if the music on these two recent Van Morrison albums is comparable, or consistent with Van’s genius, because I haven’t yet listened to ‘Keep Me Singing’– shamefully late to the party – and I simply couldn’t bear to contemplate ‘Roll With The Punches’ due to its horrendous package design (and a clichéd title that was even a cliché when Randy Newman wrote a song of the same name 30 years ago).
By the way, when I saw the ‘artwork’ for Van’s new release I couldn’t help but be reminded of a record I was fairly involved with many years ago. It was (former Rockpile guitarist) Billy Bremner’s ‘Bash’ LP (Arista Records, 1984). I had no involvement in its packaging, but I was very disappointed with the record company’s end result. The album title was horrible enough, but the graphic design was doubly so.
But I digress, and I’m sure there is no tangible link between ‘Roll’ and ‘Bash’. But how can an artist of Van Morrison’s stature allow his music – as in ‘Roll With The Punches’ – to be presented in such a crass manner? Especially when, at the other extreme, there is the striking record sleeve that adorned ‘Keep Me Singing’, with its beautiful illustration of robin red breast, courtesy of designers www.statusserigraph.com
‘Van the man’ (himself) may shape up all grumpy and say, ‘It’s all about the music, man’, but unfortunately it is NOT and never has been ‘all about the music’. Ask Chet Baker, or Bryan Ferry, or Madonna. Ask, for chrissakes, Elvis Presley. The first rule of rock and roll? Always make it look better than it sounds.
I wonder if the mighty Van Morrison has advisors, or a ‘stylist’ even? Somebody must make him wear that bloody trilby. That same somebody should have his back, and ensure that his new music is presented in an appealing way that is commensurate with his artistic greatness.