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Twenty Outrageous Album Covers: Volume One

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The word “outrageous” has many definitions, some positive and some negative. “Exceeding the limits of what is usual.” “Deficient in propriety or good taste.” “Something that doesn’t make any goddamn sense.” Alright, so we made up one of those, but you get the idea. So what makes a truly outrageous album cover? For our list, which starts with the most recent album and goes backwards, we simplified the criteria: it should be something that makes you scratch your head and say, “Huh?”

In fact, one of these records does that exact thing if you just say what’s printed on the front. Make no mistake; none of this is a question of good or bad (although some of these certainly fall into the latter category). Otherwise, we would have included plenty more albums from the ’80s. It’s more a question of the bizarre. The strange. The unexplainable.

Confused? Read on. Not that you’ll be any less confused when you finish. But hopefully you’ll be entertained. And, as always, list anything you think we missed in the comments section — especially for the inevitable second volume.

–Dan Caffrey
Senior Staff Writer

Empire Of The Sun – Ice On The Dune (2013)

Empire_of_the_Sun_–_Ice_on_the_Dune-18683

Australian electronic duo Empire of the Sun seems to have a penchant for album covers that could pass as video game posters. For their second record, the artwork ties in with the release of a fictional story about a prophet and an emperor. But which one is which? The fancier dressed guy is probably the emperor, since emperors are usually rich, but each performer’s getup seems to be from a different run-of-the-mill RPG. Some people claim it’s inspired by the Dune series, but Frank Herbert’s confounding opus somehow has more visual coherence than this. –Erin Carson

Bat For Lashes – The Haunted Man (2012)

Bat For Lashes The Haunted Man

Bat for Lashes’ Natasha Kahn told NME that the concept behind the cover of The Haunted Man was to eschew makeup and clothing in honor of women like Patti Smith. Kahn worked with photographer Ryan McGinley, who shot the image for Sigur Rós’ fifth studio album—you know, the one where they’re all naked. –Erin Carson

Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light (2012)

Spiritualized Huh cover

Spiritualized frontman Jason Pierce has said that the “Huh?” image personifies how the medication he takes for his liver disease causes him to feel. That makes the artwork a bit melancholy, regardless of how outrageous it is. Good thing the album is so uplifting. –Dan Caffrey

311 – Universal Pulse (2011)

311 Universal Pulse

311 have always been about unity (hell, it’s the name of one of their earliest albums), so we get the inclusion of nature, space, and different environments on the cover of their tenth release. It’s the choice of wildlife that throws us off. Are we meant to believe that if baboons, bald eagles, and bighorn sheep all got along, then the world would be a better place? What about humans? Oh wait, there’s a small group of them riding camels through the desert. It’s there, we promise! Bottom right corner, past all the goofy lines. Those are energy waves, we think. You know, like a pulse. A universal pulse. A universal pulse that will bring us all together. The birds, the ovines, the primates, and of course, the tiny, tiny humans. –Dan Caffrey

Lady Gaga – Born This Way (2011)

Lady Gaga Born This Way

Half motorcycle, half angry woman—the metaphor gets a little muddy on Lady Gaga’s sophomore album. It also may have ripped off a dream sequence in the fifth A Nightmare On Elm Street film. Unsurprisingly, the image’s reception from both fans and critics was rather tepid. Not that it hurt sales. Born This Way still sold 1.1 million album in its first week. –Erin Carson

Toro Y Moi – Underneath The Pine (2010)

toro y moi under the pines 576x576 Twenty Outrageous Album Covers: Volume One

Listen, Chaz Bundick, I know your music is sexy, but there’s no way I’m going underneath that pine with you. Maybe it’s that I can’t see your eyes. Maybe it’s the film of sweat around your lips. Maybe it’s that weird plant thing you’re chewing on, which, on second thought, looks like a tentacle or maybe a bird wing, or maybe a stalk of baby corn that’s gotten all bent out of shape from something you did with it. So no thanks. I’ll stay over here with the photo from Washed Out’s first album. Now that’s sexy. –Dan Caffrey

The Flaming Lips – Embryonic (2009)

embryonic Twenty Outrageous Album Covers: Volume One

To be fair, Embryonic‘s album art matches the actual album. The music is demented and formless while still sucking you in, kind of like the scene where Alex gets tortured with violent video footage and eye-drops in A Clockwork Orange. But none of that explains The Flaming Lips’ decision to include all that hair. It sort of resembles the body of a worm—tubular, then open at the front to expose a face. A fur worm. Look at it right before you go to bed and you’ll have outrageous(!), if terrifying, dreams. –Dan Caffrey

Santigold – Santogold (2008)

santigold Twenty Outrageous Album Covers: Volume One

While vomiting golden glitter is typically reserved for unicorns and kindergartners who just got out of art class, Santigold liked the concept proposed by designer Isabelle Lumpkin just fine. The singer told New York Magazine that her label was initially queasy about the shiny puke, but as long as they could see her face, they’d deal with it. –Erin Carson

Queens of the Stone Age – Era Vulgaris (2007)

Era+Vulgaris

Josh Homme says that the light bulbs on the cover of Era Vulgaris were inspired by cartoons being used to sell bad things to kids (cigarettes, sugary cereals, etc.). So the graphic designers invented a couple of characters (Bulby and Stumpy!) to sell a Queens of the Stone Age album. “But why light bulbs, Josh?” Well, he’s gone one record saying that they represent “…what you perceive to be a great idea that really is not that great of an idea.” Kind of like this album artwork. If an animated character was going to sell something to kids, you think they’d be a little cooler. Maybe an animal or a leprechaun. To be fair, this seems to have all been done in jest, plus one of the light bulbs is at least dressed like a pirate (that one’s Stumpy, in case you couldn’t tell). Still, that doesn’t make this thing any less frustrating to look at. –Dan Caffrey

Pearl Jam – Pearl Jam (2006)

pearljam Twenty Outrageous Album Covers: Volume One

Pearl Jam was so proud of their self-titled album that they didn’t care what was on the cover. So they threw an avocado on it. “I think we were watching the Super Bowl, and we had some guacamole or something,” said lead guitarist Mike McCready. Judging from the photo on the back of the CD, the band took further inspiration from the game and tossed the avocado pit around like a pigskin. Touchdown! –Dan Caffrey

Ludacris – Chicken And Beer (2003)

ludacris chicken Twenty Outrageous Album Covers: Volume One

Some album covers tell it like is, and you’d think that’s the case with this one. But look closer. If Ludacris has all that chicken around him, then why is he about to eat a woman’s leg? If he eats her leg, then there’s no room for chicken! Speaking of poultry, why does that cartoon chicken look so damn sexy? By making the woman into a meal and the bird into a sex object, is Luda subverting our perceptions of sexuality and fast food? Like any good outrageous album cover, Chicken And Beer raises plenty of questions and gleefully refuses to answer any of them. –Dan Caffrey

The Cranberries – Bury The Hatchet (1999)

bury the hatchet Twenty Outrageous Album Covers: Volume One

So much for privacy. The eye in the sky seems better suited to Queensrÿche’s dystopian prog rock than The Cranberries’ coffeehouse angst. The image is brought to you by the late Storm Thorgerson, a graphic artist who worked with the likes of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and, more recently, the Mars Volta and Muse. Dude had a thing for free-floating body parts and the desert. –Erin Carson

The Mountain Goats – Nothing For Juice (1996)

nothingforjuice Twenty Outrageous Album Covers: Volume One

John Darnielle might mention an antique fire alarm in one of the songs on this early album. He might talk about juice too. Maybe he even sings of a fire alarm that causes orange juice to rain from the ceiling sprinklers. Or maybe he just got the image from MS clip art. Keep in mind that this was 1996. Clip art was very respectable back then. –Dan Caffrey

Crosby, Stills & Nash – Live It Up (1990)

csnliveitup Twenty Outrageous Album Covers: Volume One

Nothing says live it up like roasting hot dogs on the moon. And letting a bunch of little men climb up the skewers. And they’re construction workers? And then one hot dog snaps off and floats away? And we thought Daylight Again was weird. We’ll blame it on the ’90s. –Erin Carson

KISS – Hot In The Shade (1988)

Kiss-Hot_In_The_Shade

The idea that the Great Sphinx Of Giza would ever wear sunglasses is ridiculous. Her nose is missing, so they wouldn’t even be able to stay on her face. And where’s the shade? The Sphinx has no shade. No palm tree or cabana. She’s completely exposed. If KISS had any sense at all, they would’ve called this Hot In My Shades. –Dan Caffrey

Ted Nugent – Scream Dream (1980)

screamdream1 Twenty Outrageous Album Covers: Volume One

The Nuge should talk to Lady Gaga, as they both love to strip down and cybernetically fuse themselves with foreign objects. –Erin Carson

Fleetwood Mac – Mystery To Me (1973)

Fleetwood_Mac-Mystery_To_Me

If you’re searching for the meaning behind 1973’s Mystery To Me, former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Bob Welch said the cover symbolized that “…despite how much we stuff ourselves with knowledge, we’re still monkeys.” Monkeys who like strawberry shortcake, apparently. –Erin Carson

The Bee Gees – Life In A Tin Can (1973)

bee gees life in a tin can1 Twenty Outrageous Album Covers: Volume One

Though not one of their more successful albums, it’s hard to overlook the Gibb brothers’ overly literal approach to the artwork of Life In A Tin Can. Imagine if you popped open a soda and saw a trio of Lilliputian Gibb brothers staring up at you, smiling in hopes that you won’t drink them. What would you do? Seriously, what would you do? –Erin Carson

King Crimson – In The Court Of The Crimson King (1969)

king crimson in the court Twenty Outrageous Album Covers: Volume One

What could possibly elicit such an expression from the Schizoid Man? It has to be ghastly, but we’ll never know for sure. What we do know is that the cover was painted by computer programmer Barry Godber and named for a track off what wound up being a foundational record for prog rock. Godber never did another cover, and why would he? He probably got all his demons out in one go. –Erin Carson

The Beatles – Yesterday And Today (1966)

beatles yesterday today butcher Twenty Outrageous Album Covers: Volume One

Paul McCartney: “Our comment on the war.”

John Lennon: “…as relevant as Vietnam.”

George Harrison: “Sometimes we all did stupid things thinking it was cool and hip when it was naïve and dumb; and that was one of them.”

And that’s why he’ll always be the best Beatle. –Dan Caffrey

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