Let me level with you. Bob Dylan doesn’t have good album covers. The music inside is beyond excellent. Any dude who can follow up Bringing It All Back Home with Highway 61 with Blonde on Blonde, or Blood on the Tracks with Desire, or Time Out of Mind with Love and Theft with Modern Times, is a dude who I will follow no matter what. That doesn’t mean he has a visual sense. I’ve heard Bob is a painter. I don’t want to see his paintings. If he is in charge of picking his album covers, I do not agree with his visual sensibilities.
At best, Bob’s albums feature a photograph of him with Joan Baez. At worst, you’ve got a lot to choose from. Planet Waves features a drunk sumi ink freestyle. Slow Train Coming looks like a Catholic high school art assignment. Modern Times is a nice stock photo. I’m still trying to figure out what Together Through Life is supposed to be about. But the worst, and I mean the absolute worst, album cover in Bob Dylan’s recording career has got to be his latest. What makes this even more of a tragedy is the fact that Tempest is a fantastic album. It will make greatest-album lists for years to come, and every time it does, we’ll have to endure this awful mess. What is going on here?
There is no coherence, no through line. Did two graphic artists work on this simultaneously, never once coming into contact with the other? I count three different fonts. No color coordination. The CD case itself is a plastic monstrosity straight out of 1987. Did Columbia Records forget they’ve been re-releasing Bob’s older albums in nice cardboard packaging? There is absolutely no excuse for Columbia or Bob to allow this travesty to be released as is. This is the kind of graphic design usually reserved for forgotten albums found exclusively in record store clearance bins, not one of the best albums from one of the greatest musicians to roam the earth.
With this in mind, I took a little time to redesign the Tempest album cover. Here is my version:
The front cover image is a screen shot from the Duquesne Whistle music video. I was thinking about the Blood on the Tracks cover when I designed this – I wanted a simple, iconic image of Bob as he was when the album was made. The hat, the coat, and the city street. I really like Futura, so I used that font for both front and back covers. The back cover image of Bob is the same. I like that picture of Bob. The ghostly image of a girl was something else I wanted to keep, although I needed to find a different girl since I had to replace the text. I tried to keep the same mysterious vibe they were going for in the original. I used two shades of brown for front and back covers.
While this is not perfect, I wanted to show how easy it would have been to produce a package worthy of holding the songs Bob and his band spent so many hours recording. An album should be something you want to look at while the music plays. I believe the Tempest package was slapped together without any thought.
Bob, if you ever read this post, be mindful the next time you release an album. You deserve the best packaging for the music you produce.