In the midst of a fit of impatience over the seemingly endless wait for a new Morrissey album (He’s spoiled us over the years, really—to the point that I get very anxious if much time passes with no album or New York tour date. And good grief, it’s been two whole years since the last time I saw him. I don’t want to wait any longer!), I started thinking about how he’s really one of the few artists I still care about buying music from in a physical format. I’m one of those kinds of fans who buys everything—every album, every single, every format; LPs, 45s, 12″s, CDs…and Heaven knows there are even cassingles (ugh, worst Frankenword ever) stashed away in my closet.
One of these days I’ll have to drag everything out and take a photo of it all.
What was I talking about? Oh yes, the physical albums. Aren’t the sleeves for the Smiths’ records great? They just perfectly capture what it is that made the Smiths who they were—you’ve got high glamor, homoeroticism, iconography, idolatry, melancholia, film stars, nostalgia, wit, the working class, fading beauty and gender ambiguity. I love the mono/duo-tones, the very basic fonts and understated typography, and, especially considering the style popular album covers of the era veered toward, the somewhat “undesigned” look of the collection as a whole.
Because the Smiths put out so much recorded material in such a short period of time (the selection above represents less than six years’ worth of recordings—incredible, right?), they were really able to establish a consistent visual aesthetic that’s instantly identifiable as their own…without ever appearing on the front of one of their own recordings. Not even once! In contrast, Morrissey appears on the covers of nearly all of his solo releases, something I’m sure was very deliberate and quite well-planned.
(Who’s the icon now, suckers?)
All of the Smiths’ sleeves were, of course, conceived of and created by Morrissey, with art direction on nearly all by his personal assistant, Jo Slee, and layout design by Caryn Gough (there are a few exceptions—“Sheila Take a Bow”, for example, is credited to Andy Warhol). The partnership of Jo Slee and Morrissey lasted into the early ’90s, extending into the first phase of his solo career.
Slee, by the way, released a book in 1994 called Peepholism in which she delves deeply and exhaustively into the process of creating these covers with Morrissey. It’s hard to find and quite expensive as it’s long been out of print, but if you happen to find a copy, buy it. Even if you have to sell everything you own (Squander your cash! Be rash!). It’s that good.
Speaking of that good…