Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Blonde Redhead - '23'

Before I even listened to Blonde Redhead’s seventh studio LP 23 (2007), I had already seen its artwork all over the web, from small-town Tumblrs to big city music magazine sites. In fact, I saw the jacket to 23 before I knew it was even a Blonde Redhead album.

Because album artwork in itself is such an equipped form of visual expression, we often develop our own preconceived notions about the music before we even hit “play” on our iPods. (See Britney Spears’ candy-sealed, Photoshop awarded Circus or even M.I.A’s pixilated computer glitch Kala).

When I first saw the cover art, I was instantly drawn to its kinky yet strikingly simple design. When I gave the record a first full run through, I understood the connections between the tracks and the four-legged tennis player on the front.

The album art for 23 was actually adapted from an earlier work by artist Adam Gross titled “The Tragedy.” In its original version, our quad-legged woman swims in a background of polka dots. And while both her pose and the tennis racquet remain the same in both versions, on the album cover her blue patterned dress shifts to a shade of beige and the ice cream cone in her left hand mysteriously disappears.

My only guess as to why Gross made such edits was to present a much simpler work. It would be one that would complement the songs — as well as Blonde Redhead’s overall style — a tad better.

Another bit noticeably different between the two works is the varying mediums on which they are presented. After some investigating, I found that Gross’ work routinely appears sharp and clean. The cover of 23, though, isn’t as crisp. Upon closer inspection, it even seems to be almost painted on canvas. Her face and body lines are blurred, and the image as a whole takes on a softer, more dazed identity.

When you listen to 23, you hear this same sort of sentiment. Tracks like “Dr. Strangeluv” and “23” are clouded and spacey while at the same time simplistic and fresh. The album’s experimental sound pushes further in songs “Heroine” and “Top Ranking.”

Blonde Redhead’s zany, offbeat sound and personality make the cover of 23 a perfect image for not just the album itself but for the band as well. Intentional or not, the band has done something smart— branding an identity for itself and for its album. Even if you’ve never heard a Blonde Redhead song in your life, you still may have seen that four-legged woman poised in a sea of blue. And while your ears may have failed you, at least you have your eyes to fall back on.

"The Tragedy" by Adam Gross
Photo source: Amazon.com

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