The only rule for this game is that you judge the covers solely for the covers. Don't say "I like X cover best because X is my favourite album." However, you can say "One of the reasons I like X cover so much is because it really sets the tone for X album." Okay?
To make it easier on everyone, I snagged all the album covers from u2Wanderer.org and uploaded them so I could repost them all here for your ranking pleasure:
(I'm not including the American "stretched faces" cover, because I think we can all agree that it's the worst)
The Unforgettable Fire
The Joshua Tree
Rattle and Hum
All That You Can't Leave Behind
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
Note: I didn't include images for live albums (UABRS), EPs, Passengers, or Best Ofs. But you can include them in your rankings if you'd like. Personally, I'm not going to.
And now my rankings:
Guh, this is just, a perfect album cover. I really love the shade of purple used. But what's awesome is that the purple bits hold two secrets. One, they sort of have "scanlines" in them, which reminds me of television static... television static partially obscuring the images in the background, which are the same images that can be found on the back of the album. Those bits are also obscuring/creating the partial titles of three songs not used on the album, but used later: Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me, If You Wear That Velvet Dress, and Wake Up Dead Man.
Anyway, enough nerding and onto why I like the cover best. Yes, it's purple, but mainly I like it because it's funky. It's the most "out there" U2 cover ever. It's got so much going on with the purple and the European Union stars, and the Zoobaby, and then the band name and album title are sort of just tacked onto the corner like an afterthought. I even love that.
How intense is this cover? This is the point where I actually refer to an albums contents in relation to the cover. When you look at Peter Rowan on this cover, you wnow the album is gonna be heavy. He's in the same pose as he is on the Boy cover, although zoomed in (perhaps to hide his body out of fear America would panic again), and he no longer looks so cute and innocent. His gaze is so intense and fixed. This here is a war child. He's been a victim of a war and he's pissed off about it. I wonder if it's just a coincidence that his lip appears to be split, or if they thought about that before taking the photo. Either way, it fits perfectly with the mood. I also like the vertical placement of the album name. The red really pops against the black and white and looks great.
#3 Rattle and Hum
I am a fan of Anton Corbijn's photography. It's gotten to the point where I recognize his style. I ran across a photo of Michael Stipe the other day, and I was like "...that has got to be an Anton photo." Anyway, this is a great Anton photo. I like that Edge is, quite literally, in the spotlight, rather than Bono. They could've quite easily plastered Bono all over the cover (he tends to end up front and center in band photos), but instead he's stuck in the background, holding the light. If you weren't aware of the context of the Bullet the Blue Sky solo, you'd wonder why the singer is doing a job normally reserved for metal poles. Anyway, moving on to my point. I do like the composition of the photo, and especially Edge's stance. I also like the positioning of the title, especially that "and" is on its side. And once again, the band's name is tacked onto the very corner, like some kind of afterthought.
#4 Achtung Baby
Anton photos freaking galore! You know, the band had a heck of a time picking a photo for the album. We've all heard the stories, but it wasn't just a matter of picking one of these photos. Once they got the idea to use them all, they didn't just go "Okay, square collage, let's go get some doughnuts." Oh no, there were other designs. I've seen them all (they were published in Propaganda, as I recall), but the only one I have available to post was my favourite alternate cover. Anyway, I like this album cover because despite having so much going on and so many colours, it still manages to look simple and crisp and clean. I also like that the album name (or indeed, the band name) is nowhere in sight, although I've just realized that if you stare at the picture in the upper left corner, the sign above them almost seems to say "Elevation" backward *Twilight Zone music*
#5 The Joshua Tree
This is almost tied with Achtung Baby. Here we have yet another gorgeous Anton photo. The mountains are gorgeous. The band are too. But mostly the mountains. This is actually a rather classic looking cover. It looks like something out of the 70s or even earlier. It doesn't really scream "1987!" at all, does it? It took guts to take such a rectangular photo and use it in its entirety on a square space. But I like the wide bands of black, and the gold details. It's such a pretty cover that I'd want it on vinyl just so I could look at it nice and big. It's really a pity that the cover got cropped and squished into a blurred mess on the CD version, at least here in America.
Hey! There's Peter again! And he's ickler this time. If he hadn't been on the War cover too, this would be ranked a lot higher, but in my opinion the intensity of the War cover steals all the limelight from Boy. Here's Peter, the early symbol of U2, all big eyes and innocence. It really is a pity that the record label panicked about releasing this cover in America. I mean, I can understand why, but they replaced it with such a hideous cover. Anyway, the thing going for this album cover is the mood it coveys. The album is titled Boy (although that appears nowhere on the cover, however, if you squint you can see "U2" in his hair at the very top), it features a young innocent-looking boy on the cover, and most of the songs on it are about growing up and the loss of innocence. It all fits perfectly together. I should also mention that I love the plain white background and how sort of "washed out" the photo is.
#7 All That You Can't Leave Behind
Yet again, a good Anton photo. I love the use of negative space in the photo. They could've easily zoomed right in on the band, or at least a little closer, but instead you get all this random blank space of the airport. And it's pretty too, god those floor tiles are shiny! The whole airport theme fits perfectly with the album title, and speaking of which, I love the fact that there's no separation between it and the band name, it's all just there on the same line. I love that the guys look completely unposed, like they just happened to be in the airport getting ready to go, when Anton randomly popped up and photographed them. Larry seems to have noticed at the last second. Meanwhile, Edge noticed something so shocking on the other side of the airport that he dropped his guitar in order to stare XD
I'm shocking myself by ranking this so high, as I think it's the band's least favourite cover. They had creative control over it and ignored the record execs who told them it was ugly. But Bono has his heart set on an album cover in a 1960s style, with a wide assymetrical border and inset photo, and he got it. The tracklisting is also printed on the front, which is something that no one does. Actually, let me be honest, the reason I like this cover so much is that I like the photo. I have a thing for October era Adam. It's the fro. My god, it was at its most magnificent in 1981/1982. October stands out because it is the only U2 album from the 80s with a colour photo. Other than that, the cover is kind of boring. I wonder what Bono's looking at, though?
This is the point in the rankings that I actually start getting into covers I don't like very much. I love Pop, but this cover doesn't do much for me. I get the Andy Warhol pop art thing they were going for, but I think it would've looked better with brighter colours and less cropping in of their faces. As it is, it just looks a little dull. I do, however like the silver reflectiveness of it (which does not show in the scan, obviously), and I love the centering of the band name and album title, and also the font and little stars. Also, there are apparently two Playboy bunnies hidden in the image (a sideways one in Larry's eye and a larger one made up of the left side of Edge's face, with its ears on Bono's chin), but I think that's more coincidence than anything else.
#10 The Unforgettable Fire
This cover is similar to The Joshua Tree in composition, although unlike The Joshua Tree, this cover does nothing for me. Once again (or well, this came first, whatever) we have a rectangular Anton photo, wide borders, and gold accents. Except this time the borders are red. The photo is pretty, and this was the first album cover Anton shot for U2 (although he apparently got into a little bit of trouble because the photo is almost exactly like a previous photo of Moydrum Castle taken by a different photographer.) I think I might like it better if it weren't red.
#11 How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb
I really don't like anything about this cover. I don't like the photo. The whole band seems to be asleep, and Bono looks like an elf. The wide black border is odd looking, and the red stripes are just random. The whole thing is boring and uninspired and looks like it was thrown together in less time than it took to actually take the photo.
That's all! Now go forth and rank! Also, don't worry, you don't have to write multiple paragraphs about each cover. You don't have to write anything at all if you don't want to. But I won't complain a bit if you do write lots =D
Also, there's a very good chance for similar threads in future weeks focusing on the back covers, liner notes, and CD labels themselves =)