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the three stages of electronic as a group (factory, raise the pressure and twisted tenderness) were each represented by distinct yet simple sleeve designs, which reflected both the finesse of the music and the contradictory nature of the band. nineteen89’s getting away with it set a trend for iconic yet inscrutable cover art: a vacant photo of a glass of whisky with the song title simulating the advertisement the image was taken from, and the second 12" single inverting the main image and squashing the typeface used for the panasonic logo. peter saville’s direction and factory records were two components electronic inherited from new order, along with stephen hague’s production work and arthur baker’s eventual involvement, but getting away with it had a colder feel than the pastel majesty of bernard sumner’s other band. at its best, fac257 distilled the casual irony of the song lyrics: a lounge look for a (supposed) lounge classic.
eighteen months later the johnson/panas sleeve for get the message retained the simplicity of its predecessor but managed to be much more bold, the large number ‘2’ somehow signifying the concise solidarity of the single as well as its place in the band’s discography. many of the varying international releases (particularly the uk and german cd singles) collectively remain the most complete electronic sleeves in both graphic and thematic terms — the subsequent mark farrow sleeve for the dna remixes 12", based on the iconography of motocross bike racing, was also suitably clean and direct. the us sleeves were less consistent, and unlike the uk and european versions a different colour was used for each ‘2’ — weirdly, orange on pink, green on blue, black on black and yellow on white were the schemes for the 12", cd and cassettes editions (perhaps to emphasise the less prominent title).
electronic’s first album presented marr and sumner above their new alias in a beautifully simple cover that let the music speak for itself. fact 290 is quite clearly the best of the orange album designs; its british cd counterpart lacks the delicacy of the 12" with its oversized title (although the international versions are better), while the 1994 remaster utilised the typeface (avenir) from the sleevenotes on the front. elsewhere, a loud magazine advertisement that promoted the album (in azure for vox, cerise for q, and orange for at least one other music paper) switched the photos of bernard and johnny, as did this t-shirt; the tiered effect on the original sleeve belies the fact they were taken separately but it’s noteworthy to see an alternative arrangement. both photos should be reproduced in full the next time the album is reissued.
september 1991 saw a family of cryptic designs for feel every beat, which were in fact based on the dx coding on 35mm film canisters. much like get the message the releases in each territory were colour coded — silver for britain, purple for europe, black for australia and orange for the usa. again overseen by mark farrow, this enigmatic approach was probably detrimental to the commercial impact of the single, with donald christie’s defining photo of the band placed on the back sleeve and the tracklisting and production credits (intentionally) placed on the front. ironically, the sleeves of the uk cd and cassette editions can be reversed to suit the listener’s aesthetic preference — but not by retailers as the bar code was on the front (just like fac287r). the australian release appears to be the only edition which placed the band portrait on the front, but it works very well indeed. the stars logo would be used again for the european tour tickets.
as with get the message the previous year, 1992’s disappointed saw an artistic convergence in all its media: the song, the sleeve and the promotional video. for some reason no artist is credited with the design of the cover, although an article in i-d magazine names ‘travis’ as the photographer of the series of shots that evidently produced the montage. the portraits, seemingly taken at a concert, are all excellent and in keeping with the subject of the song. the montage is just above the middle of the sleeve on the uk and us releases rather than dead centre like the german cd.
nineteen96’s forbidden city sleeve by jez frazer and charlie mitchell is a fine graphic creation, complemented by andrew catlin’s inner photography (also used for promotional material like the us press release and this billboard advertisement), but like its successors for you and second nature, both by fluid, it didn’t really encapsulate the essence of the song. there was a lack of cohesion to these sleeves, with paul barnes’ elegant logo used only on the back of forbidden city, and the futuristic writing from for you quietly appearing on the two 12" promos from the era: until the end of time and second nature. undoubtedly beautiful, the value of these covers is perhaps more aesthetic than iconic.
johannes handschin’s flower-picking sun child for raise the pressure was simultaneously lush and meaningless. perhaps referencing new order’s technique (marr: “the sleeve concept’s down to bernard’s european aesthetic”), it was as perplexing as the anti-corruption rant in the sleevenotes and the title of the album itself, a phrase from jon savage’s book england’s dreaming (‘the national press had played down the sex pistols’ record and its success during the previous week, but on the sunday, two stories raised the pressure’). a profuse mishmash of thirty-something neuroses and luminous ambivalence, it’s a unique record with a unique sleeve, the best of which is the lp version.
the symmetrical clouds are cropped on all other cd releases except the german edition, presumably to centralise the sexless blond, causing the paul barnes logo to clash with the flowers. the absence of the album title on all formats except the uk promo and aussie cds would be forgivable if the blurred writing on the inlay was actually readable; the spines are equally terrible, as is the dense green that saturates the inner sleeve. one can’t help but feel green when listening to the album. it pervades the senses. at least the typefaces used for the liner notes and promotion (interstate and handel gothic respectively) are pretty hot.
in 1999 the band issued two and a half releases. the sun-kissed vivid sleeve was slightly bland, but was made more integral by the lightning-struck twilight of its (near) follow-up late at night, the second cd of which fit inside the digipak edition. twisted tenderness was the real classic, though, infamously capturing rasputin locking eyes with the world, and the tracklisting given justified credit on the british version. it’s a brilliant album cover, although whether people who recognise it actually remember the band’s name is less of a certainty! better still is the abstract photography by mario godlewski, which featured in the cd booklet and was used in a more incorporative way in the american edition.
the 21st-century get the message best of contrasts with the simplicity of the first and third albums, but complements the air-brushed sheen of raise the pressure. placing marr in the foreground is debatable. electronic may have been a democracy — a ‘duocracy’ — but johnny looks better when he’s more reserved, in a way that belies how influential he is. bernard was the singer and frontman. but no matter. it’s always been the content that comes first, and bernard and johnny were almost as consistent with their choice of sleeve design as they were with their brilliant music. note the smaller writing on this early sleeve.