The Album Covers of Brian Eno

Brian Eno started his career in art school, originally intending to be a painter, and the covers of his albums over the last four decades reflect his longstanding interest in visual art. Eno was always heavily involved in the sleeve design, often conceptualizing or even creating the intriguing cover art himself.

Several noted artists and designers over the years have worked on Brian Eno album covers, including Peter Schmidt, Tom Phillips, Russell Mills, and Peter Saville. Geeta Dayal, author Brian Eno’s Another Green World, offers ten of her favorite Brian Eno album covers of all time.

Brian Eno album covers place a heavy focus on art.

Here Come the Warm Jets (1973)

Carol McNicoll, Eno’s then-girlfriend and the brains behind Eno’s fantastical costumes for his Roxy Music gigs, supervised the album’s cheeky cover design. The cover’s artfully-arranged mess of dead flowers, bizarre playing cards, cigarette butts, teapots, and portraits of Eno in his glam phase, among other things, is dense with coded references.

Brian Eno album covers place a heavy focus on art.

Eno/Fripp: No Pussyfooting (1973)

No Pussyfooting was the first of several fruitful collaborations between Eno and guitarist Robert Fripp that used a tape-delay looping system, allowing the duo to create dense, shimmering layers of sound. The album’s striking hall-of-mirrors cover — in which Eno and Fripp are reflected over and over, seemingly into infinity — also illustrated Eno and Fripp’s budding approach to making music.

Taking Tiger Mountain [by Strategy] (1974)

Eno strikes many poses here, in a series of quirky lithographs created by Eno’s close friend, the late artist Peter Schmidt. Schmidt and Eno would go on to release the Oblique Strategies cards, a deck of idiosyncratic instructions designed to coax artists out of creative ruts, the following year.

Brian Eno album covers place a heavy focus on art.

Another Green World (1975)

The album’s pastoral cover art is a detail from “After Raphael,” a painting by Tom Phillips, Eno’s mentor during his days at Ipswich Art College. (Some believe that the boy in the foreground, with the blond hair and the red beanie, is meant to be Eno.) The back cover depicts the decidedly un-rocking image of Eno sitting up in bed, reading a book — underlining the album’s general vibe of stillness, solitude, and quiet reflection.

Brian Eno album covers place a heavy focus on art.

Discreet Music (1975)

As Eno’s music became more ambient and conceptual, there was a gradual erosion of Eno’s image from the cover of his records. The back cover of the LP sported a stylized operational diagram of the chain of effects used to generate the music — emphasizing Eno’s budding theoretical interest in “the studio as musical instrument.”

Brian Eno album covers place a heavy focus on art.

Music for Films (1976)

In the liner notes for this intriguing collection of instrumental fragments, Eno wrote that Music for Films was intended for “possible use as soundtracks to imaginary films” and even sent the LP to filmmakers. The cover was intentionally left blank, inviting the listener to project his own imagination onto the dark, atmospheric music.

Before and After Science (1977)

An oversaturated black-and-white photograph of Eno — taken by his erstwhile girlfriend, Ritva Saarikko — adorns the minimal cover. The stark album art, and the jagged riffs of nervy, spastic songs like “King’s Lead Hat,” prefigured the new wave style that would become ubiquitous a few years later. The original LP also included four moody offset prints by Peter Schmidt, which are now collectors’ items.

Music for Airports (1978)

Music for Airports was the first album in the Ambient series; the distinctive abstract cover art for these albums was designed by Eno. The delicate network of tendrils is reminiscent of tree branches, or ancient maps, and the palette of muted earth tones — sage, ochre, aquamarine — brings nature to mind.

Eno/Byrne: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981)

The original packaging, designed by Peter Saville of Factory Records fame, was conceived with the help of early video art. The vivid abstract cover was created using primitive video feedback; cameras were pointed at monitors to generate prismatic spirals of color. For the recent deluxe reissue of the album, new art was designed by Peter Buchanan-Smith, drawing on the original palette of hues and textures for inspiration.

Brian Eno album covers place a heavy focus on art.

On Land (1982)

On Land was the fourth and last installment in Eno’s Ambient series, and the cover was again designed by Eno. The unique color halftone print depicts what looks like blue worms floating on an arid desert landscape. Why worms? The album’s dark soundscapes were composed through a process that Eno referred to as “composting,” using piles of nature recordings and recycled bits of previous work as starting materials. The worms were the agents of this composting, one assumes.

5 thoughts on “The Album Covers of Brian Eno

  1. Herbovox58

    I agree, the ambient series are closeups of maps, and there are no worms on #4 cover. Those are elevations. The cover of Taking Tiger Mountain is made up of silk screen, or serigraphs, not lithographs.