They say there's no accounting for taste, but last Saturday the Fullerton Museum Center took a stand against bad art everywhere. Presenting "The 100 Worst Album Covers," curated by music journalist Jim Washburn, the exhibit aims to illuminate the best of the worst images in pop music history. Our friends at Pop & Hiss presented a nice write up and photogallery of some of the allegedly awful works, but one album cover seems to be out of place: Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica, which celebrated the 40th anniversary of its release in June. The other works look terrible enough -- kitchiness and cheesiness flow with abundance -- but this absurdist cover stands out. It's pretty awesome.
Washburn told West Coast Sound that he struggled with including the album, but decided that it was "one of the greatest album covers and one of the most disturbing too. When I saw it at the record store for first time it was marked way down, they couldn't get rid of it fast enough."
Like Washburn says, the album is the best and the worst at the same time. But there is still a case to be made. For the equally polarizing 1960's band, the image was a perfect representation of Beefheart's far-out, and sometimes challenging, sound. The grotesque image of a literal trout mask burns into the memory and becomes inseparable from the album itself. Because of this, Trout Mask Replica's cover is an extremely effective piece of art (and advertising). Like Washburn's experience in the record store, the album pops of the shelves.
It also encapsulates the record's sound. The album flails like a fish, jumping from genre to genre, changing tact at the drop of Beefheart's top hat. In the era of musical surrealism, Captain Beefheart's maniacal imagination opened doors to new possibilities. Accessibility could be shored against experimentalism (if you have a moment, do some serious digital digging for Beefheart's 1980 performance of Saturday Night Live, NBC's overlords have eradicated it from the internet).
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So for the next installment of "100 Worst Album Covers" perhaps Trout Mask Replica could be replaced by The Coup's Party Music, which featured group members Riley and Pam the Funkstress, standing in front of an exploding World Trade Center. The album art was completed in June 2001, slated for a November release. Of course, Sept. 11th derailed the album art -- the group changed the cover at the last minute to a more serene image of a hand holding a flaming cocktail -- but still made for a moment of extreme awkwardness. Was it a political statement? Yes. Was an unbelievable moment of bad luck? Oh hell yes.
Sorry Coup, your jams are great, but this cover... a little questionable.