Friday, May 21, 2010

Movies to watch when it's hot!

cover story

Summer is upon us, which means it must be that time of the year again when film studios unleash their biggest blockbusters that are bound to make big bucks at the box office. The summer movie season kicked off in style earlier this month with the release of the highly anticipated Iron Man 2, and this year’s offerings are, once again, heavy on franchise fare, with a hefty supply of remakes, adaptations, and sequels lined up for our summer viewing. So ready the popcorn, and take a look at what the Hollywood machine will churn out in summer 2010:

The action genres will, as usual, be heavy on franchise flicks. Other than Iron Man 2, which was the film we were most excited about this summer (and which is busy breaking box office records at the moment), there are still quite a few potential hits lined up for the coming months: Jake Gyllenhaal takes on the role of Dastan in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (May) which is loosely based on the popular video game; Western comic book antihero Jonah Hex (June) gets a big screen adaptation starring Josh Brolin and John Malkovich; and powered by a heavy dose of 80’s nostalgia The A-Team (June) returns with a cast that includes Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper. Also awaiting release is the adaptation of comic book Scott Pilgrim in the adventure comedy Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (August); M. Night Shyamalan’s adaptation of the television series Avatar: The Last Airbender (July); and the ensemble action flick The Expendables, which stars Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Eric Roberts, Steve Austin, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger...or in short, just about everyone who’s ever been in an action film.
But there are also some films that we’re less than excited about, especially one in particular: all great movies must suffer the insult of a remake, and this year it’s The Karate Kid’s turn. And if that saddens you, then this will probably make it even worse: the new version stars producers Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith's 11 year old son Jaden Smith in the lead role. Along with Jackie Chan. And it was directed by Harald Zwart; yes, he's the guy who directed The Pink Panther 2. In short, abandon all hope.

The neighbouring (and often disturbingly thrill-free) category of thrillers also offers a variety of flicks: there’s a sci-fi thriller in the form of the Adrien Brody and Topher Grace starring Predator sequel Predators (July); Angelina Jolie’s action thriller Salt (July); the crime thriller Takers (August) which features an ensemble cast that includes Matt Dillon, Paul Walker, Chris Brown, Idris Elba, T.I. and Zoe Saldana; and a 3-D remake of the 1978 horror thriller Piranha (August). And then there’s the film that has now taken the place vacated by Iron Man 2 as our most anticipated film of the summer: Inception (July). Inception is a "thriller about the architecture of the mind" (awesome) that stars Leonardo DiCaprio (awesome) and has been directed by Christopher Nolan (awesome). We’re overdosing on awesomeness by just thinking about it.

Two of the films that come to us this summer from the world of animation promise to reunite us with some old friends:
· Shrek Forever After: Milking a cash cow for all it’s worth, DreamWorks unleashes the fourth (and supposedly final) instalment of the Shrek series. The principle voice-cast members reprise their roles to revisit Far Far Away for yet another adventure featuring Shrek, Fiona, Donkey, and Puss in Boots, as an over-domesticated Shrek (Mike Myers) yearns for the days he felt like a real ogre, and is tricked into making a deal with Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn) that leads to consequences he did not expect. Likely to bring in the bucks when it comes out this week, even though the initial reviews so far have been far from stellar.
· Toy Story 3: The third instalment of Disney’s Toy Story series, Toy Story 3 comes out in June, nearly 15 years after the first Toy Story film, and more than 10 years after its sequel. Yet there is little doubt that Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and the rest of the toy gang – who, in this film, find themselves in new surroundings after Andy (John Morris), now 18, goes off to college – can still be just as lovable as they were a decade ago. Combine that with the fact that Pixar can do no wrong, and you come to the fairly safe conclusion that Toy Story 3 is very likely to be quite good.
· Despicable Me: Featuring the voices of Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, and Julie Andrews, the very promising Despicable Me tells the story of the evil Gru (Steve Carell) who plans to steal the moon until three orphan girls make him rethink his plan. The film is set for a July release, and will potentially be worth watching (although we reserve the right to change our mind on this).

There are various summer comedies that will be hoping they can follow in The Hangover’s footsteps and become critically and commercially successful this year. These would include the Steve Carell and Paul Rudd starring Dinner for Schmucks (July), which revisits the 1998 French black comedy The Dinner Game. Also, the 2008 hit Forgetting Sarah Marshall gets a spin-off of sorts in the form of the Russell Brand and Jonah Hill led Get Him To The Greek (June); the SNL powered action parody MacGruber (May) sees Will Forte take the sketch show character to the big screen; Drew Barrymore and Justin Long try to maintain a long-distance relationship in the rom com Going the Distance (August); and the ensemble comedy Grown Ups (June) hopes to be a treat for Adam Sandler fans, presuming they exist.
Family friendly comedies will include the film rendition of comic strip Marmaduke (June) with Owen Wilson providing the voice of the Great Dane; novel-to-screen transformation of Beverly Cleary’s Ramona and Beezus (July) starring Joey King and Selena Gomez; and the Cats & Dogs sequel The Revenge of Kitty Galore (July).
Also in store are two comedies that follow the “high profile actors + action comedy = $$” formula. One is Knight & Day (June), which stars Tom Cruise (in his first film appearance since 2008’s Valkyrie) and Cameron Diaz. The other is Killers (June), which stars Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl, a combination that screams “critical kryptonite”; we are almost excited to see how annoying this movie will inevitably be.
And finally, there’s the buddy cop comedy The Other Guys (August), which will have us trying to reconcile our love for Mark Wahlberg with absolutely no interest in watching another Will Ferrell movie ever again; we are hoping our love for Marky Mark will eventually prevail.

Drama comes to us in many forms this summer, mostly counterprogramming the films of the more high-adrenaline variety. The female demographic will be targeted with the relationship drama Eat Love Pray (August) based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s divisive memoir of the same name and starring Julia Roberts along with Javier Bardem. But before that, the summer will see the return of Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha in Sex and The City 2 (May). Everyone with a Y-chromosome – either stay far, far away or be prepared for the movie theatre to transform into your own personal hell.
The fantasy drama category offers a modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast in Beastly (July) with Vanessa Hudgens, Alex Pettyfer, Mary-Kate Olsen, and Neil Patrick Harris; and The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud’s film adaptation Charlie St. Cloud (July), which stars Zac Efron who chose this film over the remake of Footloose. And then of course there’s the much-hyped third offering in the romantic-fantasy Twilight series, Twilight Saga: Eclipse, which will generate massive hysteria from the Twilight fans and grave expressions of disappointed in the entire human race by everyone else.

And that rounds up all that Hollywood will subject us to this summer.
We will now go and developing a time machine just so we can go forward in time to when Inception is released because we’re impatient and are therefore finding the wait quite unbearable. And afterwards, maybe we can even go back in time and stop them from remaking The Karate Kid. Does anyone have a flux capacitor to spare?

- By Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 21st May, 2010

Saturday, May 15, 2010

At The Movies (V)

movie reviews

Hollywood’s book-to-film adaptation department goes into overdrive; both real and fictional characters leap from black and white pages to the big screen

Cast: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon
Director: Clint Eastwood
Based on a book (just like most films these days seem to be), Invictus is an adaptation of John Carlin’s Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed a Nation, and portrays South African President Nelson Mandela’s (Morgan Freeman) struggle to bring his country together after the fall of apartheid, with the help of the South African rugby team captain François Pienaar (Matt Damon). A showcase of both smart leadership and the power of sports to inspire and unite people, Invictus is propelled by terrific performances by Morgan Freeman (who was chosen for the role by Mandela himself) and Matt Damon, and the output is so inspiring that at times it almost becomes hard to believe that this is how it really went down!

The Informant!
Cast: Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale, Melanie Lynskey
Director: Steven Soderbergh
The story of American executive Mark Whitacre (portrayed by Matt Damon) who was the whistleblower in the lysine price-fixing conspiracy case and acted as an FBI informant from 1992 to 1995, The Informant! recounts the events detailed in Kurt Eichenwald’s 2000 book, The Informant. Based on true events, the film follows the tale of its delusional protagonist (and self-proclaimed good guy) as he struggles with a troubled relationship with the truth; his behaviour becomes more and more bizarre with every passing minute, as the film becomes increasingly amusing while you try to figure out whether he is, in fact, too smart, or just too dumb. Fascinatingly absurd, The Informant! is layered and absorbing, and a striking showcase of Matt Damon’s acting skills.

Julie & Julia
Cast: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina
Director: Nora Ephron
Cramming Julia Child and Julie Powell into one film is a decision that defies logic – one is a culinary legend well know to millions around the world; the other, a whiny self-obsessed cooking blogger who appears to be as boring as she is annoying. What, then, possessed someone in Hollywood to put these two women together? And how does it do justice to Julie Child – and to Meryl Streep who outdoes herself with every role she takes on? The film is based on Child’s autobiography My Life in France and Powell’s Julie/Julia Project blog-turned-book Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen (in which she writes about her attempt to make all 524 recipes in the chef’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year). Now, if only one could exorcise the film of the annoying Julie so that all the focus would be on Meryl Streep’s delightful depiction of Julia…oh what a film that would be.
Julie: * Julia: ****

Sherlock Holmes
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong
Director: Guy Ritchie
The amazing Robert Downey Jr. joins the lovely Jude Law in Guy Ritchie’s revisionist take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, in a film that sees the legendary detective (Robert Downey Jr.) along with his trusty companion (Jude Law) unravel a Dan Brown-esque mystery that involves a black-magic practitioner’s (Mark Strong) attempts to take over the world; meanwhile, Dr Watson is itching to get married and settle down, much to Holmes despair; and of course Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) is on hand to provide the requisite love interest angle to Holmes revamped action hero character. Two hours of action and deduction ensure, and by the time the case comes to a close, there is little doubt that another case will soon follow and you can distinctly hear the sequel bells ringing. It isn’t a masterpiece and it certainly isn’t likely to go down as a definitive classic, but it is fun…and that’s about it.

The Time Traveller’s Wife
Cast: Rachel McAdams, Eric Bana, Arliss Howard, Ron Livingston
Director: Robert Schwentke
What would it be like if someone had to involuntarily travel back and forth in time? If The Time Traveller’s Wife is anything to go by, it would all be pretty damn boring! At least that’s how it seems after watching The Time Traveller’s Wife, a films bereft of all that makes a movie enjoyable. Based on chick-lit writer Audrey Niffenegger’s 2003 bestseller, the film follows the story of Henry (Eric Bana), a librarian who has a genetic disorder that forces him to time travel randomly and without his control, and how this affects his relations with his wife Clare (Rachel McAdams). What results isn’t exactly a sci-fi adventure but an unconvincing romantic melodrama that is as awkward as it is bland – the script lacks mirth, the characters are charm-less, the storyline is dreary and robbed of all authentic emotions. Ultimately, the only thing the film leaves its viewers with is a strong urge to go back in time and un-watch this illogical piece of fluff. Fans of the book may be able to look at the film differently, but for the rest of us, it might be a good idea to give The Time Traveller’s Wife a miss.

The Blind Side
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Quinton Aaron, Tim McGraw, Kathy Bates
Director: John Lee Hancock
I have never seen an American football games, and I have no idea who Michael Oher is (or at least didn't before I saw this film). Yet I enjoyed watching The Blind Side, the story of an African American teenager (played by Quinton Aaron) who goes from being a homeless youth to a successful NFL (National Football League) player with the help of a wealthy family that takes him in and eventually adopts him. The feisty Leigh Anne Tuohy takes charge of the family as Sandra Bullock takes command of the film, steering it into the direction of a conventional feel-good sports drama that tries a little too hard to be sincere and does everything it can to tug at your emotions. The film is based on Michael Lewis’ non-fiction book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, and it isn’t exactly a cinematic wonder, but it is a touching story that is so sweet it is very likely to make your teeth hurt. Make a dentist appointment in advance.

Whip It
Cast: Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig, Drew Barrymore, Juliette Lewis, Jimmy Fallon, Daniel Stern, Landon Pigg, Eve, Andrew Wilson
Director: Drew Barrymore
Based on Shauna Cross novel Derby Girl, Whip It is an enjoyable coming-of-age comedy that marks the directorial debut of Drew Barrymore. Set in a small town in Texas, the film tells the story of a teenage misfit (Ellen Page) who joins a roller derby league. A celebration of girl power, Whip It is a simple feel-good flick and an entertaining testament to Drew Barrymore’s directing chops, as it achieves exactly what it sets out to do. It may be formulaic and predictable and drenched in clichés, but it’s still fun to watch and not a bad way to spend an idle evening.

- By Sameen Amer

Ink Quarterly, May-Jul, 2010

Jukebox (V)

album reviews

Angels & Airwaves impress, Lifehouse bore, Ke$ha’s irreverent hits heat up the dance floor, and Emily Osment fails to establish her identity

Adam Green
Minor Love
Co-founder of the anti-folk band The Moldy Peaches (best known for their song Anyone Else But You that appeared on the soundtrack of Juno), indie musician Adam Green returns with his sixth solo album Minor Love. The singer, who has garnered comparisons to the likes of Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen, comes up with a compelling collection of slow-paced lo-fi ditties that merge simple song structures with his distinctive casual tone that, in his own words, “showcases a tender side of the often arrogant and emotionally unavailable bully/singer”. With songs like the amusing album opener Breaking Locks and The Strokes reminiscent What Makes Him Act So Bad and Goblin, the record is somewhat more mature than Adam’s previous efforts, and is surprisingly charming, and while it certainly doesn’t have universal appeal it is still very likely to be embraced by indie fans everywhere.
Highlights: What Makes Him Act So Bad, Cigarette Burns Forever

Angels & Airwaves
Tom Delonge’s ambitious alt rock project Angels & Airwaves returns with their third album, Love, the follow-up to their largely ignored 2007 effort I-Empire. This time, however, the group seems to have done something right. For a start, they released the album as a free download on Modlife ( and this move can do wonders for a band’s popularity. But what they did even better was that they made an album that’s actually worth listening to. The opening instrumental Et Ducit Mundum Per Luce entices the listener to come along on the journey that unfolds into a tale of loneliness and hope (which will also be the theme that will form the basis of their upcoming Love film), and the overall sound of the album seems to have evolved from the Tom songs off the last Blink-182 record. Without a doubt this is AVA at their best, and the album is definitely worth a listen. Besides, it’s available as a free download, so there’s absolutely no reason to not give it a try!
Highlights: The Flight of Apollo, Hallucination

“I’ll learn to live before I die,” sings Stephen Gately at the start of Brother, Boyzone’s first new album in over a decade. The boy band’s comeback album had been highly anticipated by their old fans (even the ones who bought their first three studio albums that came out in the ‘90s and are now too embarrassed to admit it!) as well as their newer admirers who were introduced to the band’s music following their 2007 reunion. Stephen’s untimely death last year, however, had cast doubt on the band’s future. The band has chosen to persevere and completed the set they had started recording with their late member and brother to whom this effort is dedicated. With Brother, the band has adopted the same formula that helped Take That’s comeback effort (in fact some of the albums strongest offerings – like Right Here Waiting, and Nothing Without You – actually bring Take That to mind), and delivered a more mature pop album powered by melodic upbeat tunes and ballads that put Ronan Keating’s vocals to best use; Stephen’s vocals can be heard on two – Gave It All Away and Stronger – of the eleven songs on the album. Overall, it’s a solid pop record that is sure to appease the boy bands fans.
Highlights: Gave It All Away, Nothing Without You, Love Is A Hurricane, Ruby

Chester French
Love The Future
Much hyped American pop duo, and famed Harvard grads, Chester French’s debut album earned them a lot of attention after three industry heavy-weights – Kanye West, Jermaine Dupri, and Pharrell Williams – had each wanted to sign the band to their record label (the band eventually chose Pharrell’s Star Trak Entertainment). The reasons for the producers’ enthusiasm, however, aren’t readily apparent when one gives a cursory listen to Love The Future, the thirteen-track debut offering by David-Andrew Wallach and (Peaches Geldof’s ex-husband) Maxwell Drummey. Listen closely, however, and you will notice that sprinkled throughout the album are hints of what the band can potentially create. Perhaps they have tried to do too much on the album and musically stretched each song way more than they should have, because the band is at its catchy best in songs like the melodic Beach Boys-esque Fingers, the quirky Neal, and the indie-tinged gem Beneath The Veil. Hopefully on their second album, Chester French will be able build on their strengths and transform their potential into pop gold.
Highlights: Fingers, Beneath The Veil, Neal, She Loves Everybody

Emily Osment
All The Right Wrongs
Disney star (and Haley Joel Osment’s younger sister) Emily Osment has decided that she wants to sing. Not surprising, since all Disney actresses are bound to release albums of varying degrees of awfulness at some stage in their careers. What might seem different about Emily though is that, after repeatedly sighting names like Led Zeppelin and Portishead as her musical influences, the singer seems to want to break away from the teen pop genre and release an album that’s all about Rock ‘N’ Roll. Unfortunately, with All The Right Wrongs, the six-song EP that the singer had apparently been working on for more than two years, that does not happen. The set is nothing more than watered down pop rock, not unlike the work of many of her Disney peers. The closest she gets to fulfilling her pop rock dreams is on the Paramore reminiscent You Are The Only One, and much of the remaining record does nothing but disappoint. By and large, All The Right Wrongs is nothing new or different, but it will still appeal to Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato fans and her Disney fanbase. (The sporadic use of the word “damn” in her songs, however, might not please her fans’ parents!)
Highlights: You Are The Only One, I Hate The Homecoming Queen

Animal is the kind of record guaranteed to tear the world of music fans in two. One group will point to it being an enjoyable dance record filled with lively pop songs. The other group will reel back in horror the moment the record starts, and run out of the room screaming and tearing their hair out soon after; how, they will wonder, can anyone listen to this garbage? Simply put, it’s the kind of album that would get an A for danceability, and an F for substance – the lyrics are crass, the vocals are indistinctive and auto-tuned, and it, by it’s very nature, is entirely disposable. Once you listen to it though, it will make you want to “wake up in the morning feeling like P Diddy” and leave your mind going “blah blah blah” for the rest of the day; just don’t be too hard on yourself when that happens.
Highlights: Tik Tok, Party At A Rich Dude’s House, Backstabber

Smoke & Mirrors
Lifehouse can make catchy pop songs, as they have proved a few times in the last decade since coming to the world’s attention with their hit Hanging By A Moment. Yet they just seem like another indistinctive pop-rock group that’s extremely one dimensional, and the dimension they master in isn’t particularly interesting. Which is why, to anyone but their diehard fans, Smoke & Mirrors won’t offer anything new. Still, chances are quite high that a song or two from this album will be coming to a TV series soundtrack near you very soon. The band has worked with musicians including Chris Daughtry, Richard Marx, and Kevin Rudolph on this record, but in the end it’s still the same old set of unmemorable (albeit not entirely incompetent) tracks that may be melodic and at time touching but eventually quite forgettable. Their fans, of course, will still feel the connection they have established with Jason Wade and co. over the band’s last four albums. For the rest of us though, Smoke & Mirrors IS a good pop rock album. It just that this has all been done before. Many times.
Highlights: Had Enough, By Your Side

- By Sameen Amer

Ink Quarterly - May-Jul 2010

The Bookshelf (V)

book reviews

Michael Jackson’s autobiography gets a re-release, Jasper Fforde takes us on a journey into Jane Eyre, while John Grisham’s latest fails to satisfy

Michael Jackson
At the top of his career in 1988, Michael Jackson published his autobiography, Moonwalk, both capitalizing on the public interest that had been generated by his music and antics while also getting a chance to offer his own take on all that was being said about him in the tabloids. The book was edited by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and became a number one bestseller soon after its release. Following his untimely death last year, Moonwalk has been reissued, this time with an introduction by Motown founder Berry Gordy. The book offers an honest, yet somewhat guarded, account of MJ’s life, including memories of his childhood, insight into his battle with his image, as well as a look at his creative process while making Off The Wall, Thriller, and Bad. But here’s the snag: Moonwalk was written before Michael went into seclusion and before the occurrence of many of the incidents that became tabloid fodder, so while some of what he says might’ve been new information in 1988, there isn’t much in the book that will, at this point, come as a revelation and his fans probably won’t find out much about him that they didn’t already know. Yet, since the book does offer a piece of Michael’s thoughts and feelings and a view of his life in his own words, there are still some things that can be read between the lines and that can help give you a better idea of who the person behind the persona really was, because while everything else that has written about him is someone else’s interpretation of his life, this book presents his story the way he wanted to tell it.

John Grisham
The Associate
In his latest legal thriller, best selling author John Grisham tells the story of a promising law student Kyle McAvoy who has a secret and is blackmailed into taking a job he doesn’t want, making him a pawn in corporate espionage. Suffering through the perils of being a first-year associate with a huge law firm while being monitored by a shady figure, Kyle must find a way to untangle the mess he’s in. A typical Grisham novel, you’d think, and for most part you’d be right: the writing isn’t bad, the premise is interesting, and the plot has potential. But then we get to the surprise ending: the surprise being that there is no ending. Or at least that’s how it feels. As you read the last page of The Associate, not only are you uncertain about the future of Kyle, but you’re also left wondering, where did the rest of the book go? It’s like someone just told the writer to stop writing, and he simply put his pen down. Which is a shame because the story certainly has potential. Unfortunately, that potential is never fulfilled, and while it will keep you interested, the conclusion is bound to let you down. Even if you don’t consider The Associate a complete disaster (presuming you don’t mind ambiguous endings), the book certainly isn’t at par with John Grisham’s earlier work.

Jasper Fforde
The Eyre Affair
Propelled by a very creative premise, Jasper Fforde’s metafiction fantasy novel The Eyre Affair is set in a literature obsessed alternative 1985, and, just as its name would suggest, references the Charlotte Brontë opus Jane Eyre. Published in 2001, the book was the first in the Thursday Next series, which features the adventures of the literary detective as she investigates the theft of manuscripts and strives to protect works of literature from criminals. In The Eyre Affair, after Thursday’s uncle Mycroft invents a Prose Portal machine which allows people to enter works of fiction, Acheron Hades (the story’s villain) gains access to the device and threatens to destroy Jane Eyre, after which Thursday must pursue him into the text and save the book for future generations. Overall the idea of the book is very clever, and the imaginative world built by Fforde is both amusing and creative. Yet somehow the book is less than the sum of its parts, or perhaps it just isn’t for everyone. It is clever, yet lacks the emotional development that was needed for the characters to resonate with the readers, and to some it may even seem contrived. That said, it is easy to understand why this series has been so successful, because the book does show promise for the rest of the series (there have been four sequels to the book so far), and it will definitely strike a chord with literature fans, so if you are into classics (and especially if you enjoy debating topics like Shakespearean authorship) then you might want to give The Eyre Affair a try – it isn’t stellar, but it is quirky and wildly imaginative, and filled with literary allusions that bookworms are likely to enjoy.


P. G. Wodehouse
Jill The Reckless
First published in 1920 under the title The Little Warrior, Jill The Reckless follows the story of Jill Mariner, a spirited young woman engaged to be married to Sir Derek Underhill, but a series of mishaps leave her financially broke. And after her fiancée breaks off the engagement, Jill travels to America and joins the chorus of the musical The Rose of America. In the U.S., she reconnects with her childhood friend Wally Mason, while her good-natured pal Freddie Rooke sets off on an ill-advised mission to patch things up between her and Underhill. In typical Wodehouse style, the story spins around a simple yet complicated plot, and sends the reader on an entertaining roller coaster of comedic complications and amusing results. It’s a fun filled journey that entertains while giving readers a glimpse of the inner working of early 1900s Broadway as the feisty protagonist finds her way through life and learns to deal with all that comes her way. This may be one of the lesser-known novels by the celebrated master of prose, but Jill The Reckless is still a gem, especially for Wodehouse fans, and it is simply a delight to read.

- By Sameen Amer

Ink Quarterly - May-Jul, 2010

Friday, May 14, 2010


cover story

A look at some of the greatest album covers of all time

The album cover has been an important part of popular culture, merging art and music to create some of the world’s most unforgettable images. Awesome cover art and creative album packaging have helped musicians promote their work while giving them an additional medium for conveying their artistic aspirations; yet the medium seems to be on the decline. With the onset of the digital age, as well as artists expending less and less creativity on the album cover (and even the album itself), uninspiring covers featuring run of the mill imagery have become prevalent. This week we reminisce over the art that seems to be fading away, by looking at some of the most memorable, creative, and artistic album covers of all time.

* Memorable

It’s only fitting that some of the greatest albums of all time also came with the greatest album covers!

Abbey Road (1969) and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) by The Beatles One can include pretty much any of the Beatles album covers here, but these are the two that this section would be absolutely incomplete without:
- Abbey Road (1969): After the group decided to call the album Abbey Road, photographer Iain Macmillan took the iconic photograph that appeared on its cover, and shows George Harrison, Paul McCartney (barefoot and out of step with the others), Ringo Starr, and John Lennon at the zebra crossing on Abbey Road outside the famous Abbey Road Studios, on the 8th of August 1969. The cover has since become one of the most imitated images of all time, and is considered to be the world’s most famous album cover ever; the zebra crossing is now a popular destination for Beatles fans and even has its own live webcam feed (, and the Volkswagen Beetle that can be seen next to the zebra crossing in the photo has been on display at the Volkswagen museum in Wolfsburg, Germany.
- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967): The Sgt. Pepper’s cover was originally going to feature a psychedelic painting by The Fool, but art director Robert Fraser convinced the band against it. Instead, a montage of famous people, known as ‘People We Like’, designed by Peter Blake and his wife Jann Haworth and photographed by Michael Cooper in March 1967, adorned the cover of the album. The cover shows the Beatles as the Sgt. Pepper band, surrounded by celebrities chosen by the group, which included Bob Dylan, Marilyn Monroe, Aldous Huxley, Sigmund Freud, Edgar Allan Poe, Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and Marlon Brando, along with the original Beatles bass player, the late Stuart Sutcliffe. Adolf Hitler, Mahatma Gandhi, and Jesus Christ, were also requested by John Lennon, but ultimately left out. The montage includes 57 life-sized cardboard cut-outs, 9 waxwork models (including figures of the Beatles) loaned from Madame Tussaud’s, a Shirley Temple doll in a “Welcome the Rolling Stones, Good Guys” jumper, a Sgt. Pepper drumskin, a “Beatles” floral arrangement (and another one of a guitar), and several items that belonged to the group members, including small statues and a trophy. The final bill for the cover? £2,868, an estimated 100 times more than the average cost for an album cover in those days!

Nevermind (1991) by Nirvana
When Kurt Cobain’s original idea for the then-little-known band’s sophomore album cover led to images that were either too graphic or too expensive, Geffen Records’ art director Robert Fisher hired photographer Kirk Weddle to work on the cover; he in turn asked his friends Renata and Rick Elden, who agreed to let their three-month-old son be photographed underwater for a fee of $200. The resulting photograph, which shows an infant swimming towards a dollar bill on a fishhook, ended up gracing the cover of Nevermind, which is now owned by more than 26 million people around the world. The Nirvana baby, Spencer Elden, is now 18, and has been an intern at Shepard Fairey’s Obey Giant studio. The cover was famously lampooned by Weird Al Yankovic for his Off the Deep End album, and has also had a few Simpsons parodies (one with Bart swimming after a Krusty Buck, and another with Homer chasing a doughnut!).

Wish You Were Here (1975) and The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) by Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd’s relationship with the design team of Hipgnosis has led to some of the most awesome album covers ever:
- Wish You Were Here (1975): Inspired by the ideas of fake gestures and the fear of getting burned, the album cover shows a man engulfed in flames shaking hands with a man in a business suit. The stuntmen, Ronnie Rondell and Danny Rogers, one of whom was dressed in a fire-retardant suit and protective hood, had to switch positions as the wind was initially blowing in the wrong direction; the image was later reversed. Also, based around the concept of “unfulfilled presence”, Storm Thorgerson concealed the cover in a dark coloured wrap, so that it would, in a way, be “absent”, and a sticker showing two mechanical hands engaged in a handshake, designed by George Hardie, was placed on the opaque sleeve.
- The Dark Side of the Moon (1973): Chosen out of seven designs, Pink Floyd’s magnum opus Dark Side of the Moon’s cover bore George Hardie’s iconic refracting prism; the spectrum of light (which is missing the colour Indigo that would be in a normal prism) continues through to the gatefold where another prism recombines the spectrum. It’s elegance and simplicity has rendered it as timeless and influential as the album itself.

- London Calling (1979) by The Clash: Paul Simonon smashes his bass in a moment captured by photographer Pennie Smith in September 1979; the typography of the cover, designed by Lowry, pays homage to Elvis Presley’s first album.
- IV (1971) – Led Zeppelin: A simple, yet remarkable, contract between the city and country, highlighting the ensuing change in balance, the cover shows a 19th century rustic oil painting (purchased from an antique shop by Robert Plant), contrasted with a 20th century English urban tower block on the back of the full gatefold album cover. The album also famously included the four symbols on the inner sleeve which represented the four members of the band.
- Relayer (1974) by Yes: The close association between Yes and artist Roger Dean has ensured that the band’s album covers offer striking artwork. The Relayer gatefold, often cited as Roger Dean’s most intriguing work, shows an epic, poetic landscape, which in turn inspired the album’s title. The artwork, originally only slightly larger than the LP jacket, reportedly took the artist about 300 hours to complete.


Creativity can take an artist a long way…as long as the UK album charts aren’t their preferred destination…

The Information (2006) by Beck
What do you do if you want no two copies of your album to have the same cover art? Well, if you’re Beck, you issue the album with a blank grid sleeve along with a random set of stickers, so that everyone can make their own album covers (some of which can now be seen at And if you’re the U.K. Official Chart Company, you punish the artist for being creative by deeming his album ineligible to enter the UK Albums Chart. Yes, that really is what happened. Its customisable cover concept was seen as a gimmick to increase sales hence giving it an "unfair advantage", and The Information was declared ineligible to chart in the region. Penalization for creativity…and they wonder why the music industry is in shambles!

No Code (1996) by Pearl Jam
Why was the album called No Code? “Because it's full of code,” explained Eddie Vedder. So what better way to present it than through a cover that adds more hidden allusions to the package? Constituting of 144 seemingly random Polaroid photographs, the cover, when viewed from afar, reveals a logo in the form of a triangle with an eyeball in the middle. The package also included sets of replica Polaroids - sets C, O, D and E - with lyrics printed on the back. Any chance Dan Brown might pick up on the Pearl Jam (no) code in his next novel?

Thick as a Brick (1972) by Jethro Tull
This prog rock concept album came with a spoof newspaper cover; the album’s packaging was based on a multi-page local "The St. Cleve Chronicle" newspaper written by Ian Anderson, Jeffrey Hammond, and John Evan, that included stories, competitions, adverts, and lot of inside puns and cleverly hidden continuing jokes, referencing the lyrics throughout the articles, and, according to the band’s website, actually took longer to produce than the music itself!

- Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space (1997) by Spiritualized: In keeping with its prescription medicine box cover, which itself was an analogy to the album’s title and concept, a special addition of the album came with 12 mini CD’s in blister packs, complete with a dosage instructions leaflet, which specifies that “Spiritualized is used to treat the heart and soul”.
- X&Y (2005) by Coldplay: A combination of colours and blocks, this cover shows a graphical representation of the album’s title X&Y in Baudot code.
- Amnesiac (2001) by Radiohead: The Stanley Donwood and Tchock (pseudonym of Thom Yorke) collaboration has led to some awesome concepts with great execution. A special issue of their 2001 album Amnesiac came in the form of a red hardback book, like the book pictured on the album cover, which featured many pages of art designed by Donwood and Yorke.


The Best Pakistani Album Covers

What are some of the best Pakistani album covers of all time, and why? Here’s what our musicians had to say:

· Junaid Khan (Call): I found the Daur-e-Junoon album cover the best. Even though I found almost all of the Junoon album covers great, but this was the best amongst them all. Why? Well what I believe is that an album actually depicts everything that the artist is about. The cover should be designed in a way that at the first glance a person can predict the genre and style of the band. Junoon was all about live soulful music, and whenever I used to think of Junoon, I used to imagine all those awesome live shows that I’ve gone to and remembered, which were full of energy. The Daur-e-Junoon album cover was a compilation of Junoon's best live performances and when you see the cover, one could easily say what’s inside. The cover had pictures of Junoon performances from venues throughout the world which thrilled a fan like me to a great extent, and once I go through the album cover while listening to the songs, the pictures connect with me in a way that I feel like I am actually seeing the artist live and the overall experience goes beyond imagination. I believe if an artist can connect a listener visually to himself through this, then it has actually succeeded.
· Faiza Mujahid: I pick the album cover of Mekaal Hasan Band’s Saptak, designed by Mehreen Murtaza…the first album which does not impose the band members faces on it and it’s about the music and so it is represented visually rather than the clichéd image of the singers with gel-back hair and lots of makeup! It is, I think, for the first time that even the audience has responded very enthusiastically to the album art and picked up the connection between the image and the sound.
· Goher Mumtaz (Jal): I think Junoon’s Parvaaz had a nice cover. The three things that can have a different effect and make the cover stand out are faces (for me, covers should always be without faces), colours, and theme.
· Atif Aslam: I think all the album covers designed for madam Noor Jahan [were the best]. There was nothing exceptional about them but the masses would react very differently to them because in Pakistan a good album cover just adds a little to the content that any of the big or small artists have to offer. So for the masses it’s different and for a niche it’s completely different whereas it totally depends on the popularity of an artist here in Pakistan how the album is going to work so it’s not very important.
· Nausher Javed (Inteha): I don’t have any particular favourites as far as Pakistani album covers are concerned, as I personally feel that an album cover should depict ‘a band’ or ‘an individual’ rather than a haphazard theme, which usually has always been the case. One should be able to get the message or the idea of the name of the band by just looking at the cover. I hope in the near future artists will also pay particular attention to this part.

- By S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 14th May, 2010