Do you still care about album artwork?

Vince Neilstein of MetalSucks raised that question yesterday. He argued that the singular album cover has become outdated in today’s MP3-fueled, multimedia world. Visuals will always be important. But their environment has become more dynamic, with moving images and multiple interfaces (see here for a good discussion of visually enhanced digital albums), so the static image doesn’t cut it anymore. One of his arguments is especially cogent: album artwork is no longer a retail draw because record stores are disappearing.

I agree to an extent. Fine artists who once solely made album covers are having to become graphic designers for websites and package layouts. But one powerful image still trumps many lesser ones. If an album cover is strong enough, it will hold up in any environment. For example, imagine marketing Master of Puppets today. The cover has several elements — grassy field, rows of crosses, burnt sky, ominous hands — that could easily skin a MySpace or Twitter page. Album covers haven’t become obsolete so much as impotent. In this age of Photoshop horrors, album artwork often barely suffices for its original purpose, much less multiple ones. Derek Riggs’ classic art for Iron Maiden — it looks good anywhere, anytime.

Sodom – M-16 gatefold

The artwork question ties into the issues of media formats and the listening experience. So many people say that they uphold the traditional model and buy CD’s for the artwork. (Vinyl would be better for that.) But how many actually do that? Who actually sits down and listens to music with a focus so uninterrupted that the only thing in one’s hands is liner notes? People now listen to music in the background or on the go. I don’t know a single person who sets aside dedicated, drop-everything-else time for music listening. This is unfortunate, but it’s the way of industrialized society. The only place I look at album artwork is on a computer screen — which, ironically, often offers better visuals than a CD, at least in terms of size.

I’m curious how you experience album artwork now. Do you still physically touch it? Do you even look at it, or care about it anymore?