Group: Super Admins
Joined: Dec. 1999
||Posted: Jan. 04 2017, 18:16
I know that everyone gets passionate about music and artwork, but I hope we can all find ways of talking about it without ripping each other's throats out
I think that for as long as the album cover (and a couple little snippets of music) is all there is to talk about, it's going to be a big topic for debate whether it's ultimately important to the overall package or not.
My own observation, from having worked on various projects where I've ultimately been responsible for the whole package (not creating the artwork myself, but guiding it), is that the packaging design is really a very important aspect of the product as a whole. That of course is going to depend on the delivery medium - I suspect it's going to have fairly little effect over how someone feels about playing the album on Spotify, but in the realm of physical media, I think you have to approach it from the point of view that you're not really selling someone the music (because they can download that) but an experience. It does also depend on who the artist is, who their customers are and how they're buying (like, for example, Mike Oldfield isn't an almost unknown artist selling CDs at gigs), but my experience has been that if you put the time into getting the packaging right, creating something that people want to pick up and engage with, you're much further on your way to convincing someone that you've got an album that they're going to enjoy.
Is that superficial? I don't personally think so, it's just how people are. I think at least some of us would like to have an album in packaging which makes us feel good in the same way that we'd rather listen to the album in a nice comfy chair rather than sitting on a sharply pointed spike. The music's not going to be changed by sitting on a spike, but the experience of listening certainly is and I imagine it'll be changed for the worse in most people's opinion (yeah, there are always exceptions...let's just leave that thought right there ).
I like the original Ommadawn cover. It's certainly not a fancy piece of design, probably not something you'll want painted as a mural on your wall or made into a t-shirt like some have with Tubular Bells...but I think it links closely with the music, even down to having echoes of the "I like thunder and I like rain" verse of On Horseback.
I think, from that point of view, Return to Ommadawn is a tricky concept to approach. The title sounds like a fantasy album if you don't know Ommadawn as the title of Mike's 1975 album. I'm also not sure if the cover is inappropriate for the album content, as Mike does seem to have gone down a bit more of a fantasy-Celtic path with at least some of the music. Perhaps the very process of making the album has felt like a kind of Hero's Journey for Mike, with many battles and conquests along the way...
But...we (as long term fans) all know what Ommadawn is. On hearing the words 'Return to Ommadawn', I think a lot of us expect something that harks back to 1975 and exists within the same world as the original...a world which I can say Lancelot isn't alone in having imagined as being free from giant turtles, stags and warriors. That's a matter of expectation, though - it's not something which necessarily has anything to do with what's actually on the album, which is why I mention that long term fans probably have a different perspective.
I personally see Ommadawn as an album that was deeply connected with the place (both figuratively and literally) where Mike was at the time. I feel the cover reflects that rather nicely, his pensive gaze hinting at his inner state while we're left to imagine what rainy landscape he might be looking out at. I wonder, though, whether Return to Ommadawn will have the same connectedness with Mike's current surroundings, or whether Mike's been immersed in an entirely different world...
I liked how Amarok took some of the ideas of Ommadawn and became its own thing, including William Murray's own take on the cover photograph. I wonder how fans would have felt had he called that Return to Ommadawn (or Ommadawn II) - which it was...it had become its own thing by the end of it, and I think that calling it Amarok allowed it to assume its own identity. The cover portrait shows us that it's a very different Mike Oldfield who's recorded it, and we know that very different music awaits us...
I enjoy what Steven Wilson does with his albums, he's done some nice two-disc sets which are like little hardback books, with a lot of artwork in the middle. I feel that really enriches the whole experience...providing visual food for thought without being prescriptive. I think that's a tough line to tread, making a certain visual statement while still leaving enough open for the listeners to bring their own ideas to the table and enjoy the album in their own ways.