10 Best and 10 Worst Album Covers of 2008

First some ground rules:

Album cover art only. Insides and overall packaging will not be considered. While noble and creative efforts have been made by bands and designers to redefine album artwork (see Of Montreal and Snow Patrol), this list is for cover design only.

Genre cliches have been excluded in the worst category. For example the typical country, metal, and hip-hop covers have been counted out, because while yes, they are bad, they are all just copies of each other and not worth further scrutiny than a roll of the eye.

So without further ado here are the best, and worst, album covers of 2008.

The 10 Best:

10. Black Keys // Attack & Release

black keys
Straight out of Akron, Ohio, the Black Keys new album art features stylized portraits of the two members.

09. Cadence Weapon // Afterparty Babies

afterparty babies
We've all had to sit for a photo like this one. Well, maybe not quite like this one.

08. Gnarls Barkley // The Odd Couple

gnarls barkley the odd couple
Gnarls Barkley have a knack for creating great images alongside of their great music and this album is no exception.

07. Death Cab For Cutie // Narrow Stairs

death cab for cutie narrow stairs
A colorful and pleasant collage, very much reflective of Death Cab's sound.

06. Fleet Foxes // Fleet Foxes

fleet foxes
The medieval style painting on the cover is a refreshing change of pace for an album cover.

05. David Byrne & Brian Eno // Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

everything that will happen
Rock Star designer Stephan Sagmeister designed the cover for this long awaited release.

04. Radiohead // In Rainbows

in rainbows
While the album was released digitally in 2007 it wasn't until 2008 that a proper album cover was released when the album reached the brick & mortar stores. For the first several months fans were creating their own jpgs to carry with them on their iPods. The official cover is designed by Stanley Donwood who has designed all of Radiohead's artwork since 1994.

03. Kanye West // 808s & Heartbreak

808s and heartbreak
The original artwork shown here is both striking and reflects the unusually sentimental West record. The artwork is being redesigned and released on 12.16 by KAWS.

02. Nine Inch Nails // The Slip

the slip
Offered as a free download the album cover shows that Nine Inch Nails is still an industry leader after all these years. Design by Rob Sheridan.

01. T.I. // Papertrail

papertrail
Papertrail's outstanding imagery was created by Ian Wright. It may look like a Photoshop mash-up but this image was made the old fashioned way by cutting up thousands of pieces of paper and arranging them into a collage.

The 10 Worst:

10. Scarlett Johansson // Anywhere I Lay My Head

anywhere
At least it's representative of how bad the album actually is.

09. MIA // Kala

kala
Looks like when my Nintendo would freeze back in the 80s.

08. Amazonka // Pycaaha

pycaaha
Nice try.

07. Erykah Badu // New Amerykah

new amerykah
It really takes something awful to make a beautiful woman look ugly.

06. Dresden Dolls // No Virginia

no virginia
There's nothing more badass then dashing a child's hopes and dreams. It's good to see they had the courage to stand up and finally say something.

05. Brad Paisley // Play

play
This is creepy on many levels.

04. Madonna // Hard Candy

hard candy
Please. We've seen enough. Put it away now.

03. Tech N9ne // Killer

killer
Am I supposed to be scared or turned on? Tech N9ne says "both."

02. Sebastien Tellier // Sexuality

sexuality
Um, okay, sure, why not.

01. Gwen Stacy // The Life I Know

The life i know
Buried alive! She can yell, scream, and croon all she wants. No one will hear it. ...so true.

What album covers did you love or hate this year?

*UPDATE: Thanks to Chelsea for pointing out the Sia album, which I somehow overlooked, for the worst album covers of 2008.

Sia // Some People Have Real Problems
sia

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  1. These are great, James. Funny, I was this close to including The Black Keys and Fleet Foxes ones in my Best Album Art 2008 chart, then dropped them in last minute. Aw well.

    And I absolutely love the Death Cab one, I had totally forgotten about that one and it's easily in the top 3 of the year.

  2. Great article!

    Madonna Hard Cady is definately the worst album cover I've seen in a while, the font is used awfully along with the dodgy blue copy behind it.

    I think I'm gonna throw up lol

  3. Chelsea,
    Wow! Yeah, I'm not sure how I missed that catastrophe of an album cover. Good call. I think because it's an alternate cover maybe. I've updated the post and included the Sia album cover because you are right, wow, you are right.

  4. Also, just thought I'd add my top 10 albums (from a musical perspective) to this list as well.

    10. Vampire Weekend // Vampire Weekend

    09. No Age // Nouns

    08. The Hold Steady // Stay Positive

    07. Frightened Rabbit // Midnight Organ Fight

    06. Q-Tip // Renaissance

    05. Lightspeed Champion // Falling Off The Lavender Bridge

    04. Parts and Labor // Receivers

    03. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds // Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!

    02. TV on the Radio // Dear Science

    01. Blitzen Trapper // Furr

  5. This is for the other Art History nerds out there. The Fleet Foxes album cover is actually a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, so I m not sure that it should count in a best album cover list. Its a ripping painting however.

  6. Alan:

    Funny, I actually thought the Fleet Foxes ones was an allusion to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, partly because of the visual but mostly because of the lyrical content of some of the songs. I had a whole theory going but, ha, I guess I was wrong.

    Thanks for the enlightenment, I love finding out stuff like that.

  7. Alan,
    Thanks for the insight. I can't believe I didn't remember that from art history class.

    Brainpickier,
    Yeah, I wonder too, what is the significance of using this image as the cover art?

  8. Or we may all just be overthinking it. The image depicts 100+ Dutch proverbs. The Fleet Foxes, being so mundanely Seattle-based, maybe just wanted some of the clever-coolness associated with all things Dutch these days to rub off on them. (C'mon, let's face it: most indie bands at SXSW these past few years either are or want to be/sound/look Dutch or Scandinavian.)

    The cynic in me has come to realize that, more often than not, when looking for a deeper meaning, there's really just a superficial explanation. But, hey, I'd love to be shown otherwise.

  9. Brainpickier,
    You are probably right. I am always looking for deeper meaning and then I'll read or see an interview with the creator and they'll say something like, "it just looked cool that way." The original painting by Bruegel is filled with old Dutch proverbs most of which have lost their meaning over the years. So maybe the album cover is actually about the loss of meaning.

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