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What the Hell Is Wrong with the Cover of the New Black Flag Album?

We asked six artists to break it down for us.

If you’ve followed the punk drama that is Black Flag’s comeback over the last year, you’ve no doubt seen the visual abortion that is the cover of their new album, What The…, which comes out next week. If Greg Ginn and company were trying to utterly confuse the shit out of everyone, they succeeded. I stared at it, squinty eyed, for a solid ten minutes before realizing this was more than my minor in art from a liberal arts college prepared me for. So I asked six artists and graphic designers who’ve done artwork for bands and record labels to break it down for me. Here’s what they had to say...

Rob Dobi (Full Bleed / Your Scene Sucks)
Has done artwork for:
Green Day, Thursday, Pearl Jam

What were your first impressions of it?
It looks like the placenta lovechild of Cartman and Punchy of Hawaiian Punch fame swimming through ecto-cooler and Hulk jizz.

What, from a design standpoint, is wrong with it?
Absolutely nothing, Black Flag is an extremely sour candy with a gushy center in the same vein as Warheads, right? This works perfectly then.

What do you think the artist was going for?
Probably trying to imagine how to give the viewers' eyeballs cavities.

If you were assigned to improve it, what would you do/change?
I would have probably made used more 1998 Photoshop filters. The text could have really used an inner bevel / outer glow combo to make it pop. The drop shadow just isn't cutting it.

What do you think Black Flag are thinking right now?
"I can't wait to see what those assholes on America Online think about this cover."

How would you describe this cover for someone who has never seen it before?
Imagine an anti-abortion ad describing when life begins for punk cartoon characters.


Bryan Ray Turcotte (Kill Your Idols)
Author of: Fucked Up and Photocopied

What were your first impressions of it?
I was 100% certain that my friend Cali was pranking me when he presented it as the new Flag cover. I was shocked. It made me gasp and choke on my Coca-Cola. He laughed at me as I laughed at the design. But once I realized it was no joke I kinda loved it. I would not have the guts to put it on my own album but hey, it's so "Fuck you, we really don't give a damn." I think it fits somehow. It was definitely unexpected but it certainly seems to be getting some attention.

What, from a design standpoint, is wrong with it?
Everything and nothing at the same time.

What do you think the artist was going for?
I imagine the band was going for whatever was the exact opposite of their earlier covers featuring Pettibon art. If they were going for something other than that, I couldn't even take a guess.

If you were assigned to improve it, what would you do/change?
Thats a great question. In this case I think I would just leave it alone. Now that I have seen it, I can't see anything else.

What do you think Black Flag are thinking right now?
"Hey, our new album is getting loads of press, COOL!"

How would you describe this cover for someone who has never seen it before?
It looks very similar to my son's art. He just turned six. It's a floating head of a punker with pink hair puking up something green while hands up flashing the sign of ROCK AND ROLL. The four black bars seem out of place on this one.


Chris Norris (Steak Mtn)
Has done artwork for:
Against Me!, CombatWoundedVeteran, No Idea Records

What were your first impressions of it?
Envy, jealousy, and that I should I start thinking about retiring from designing album art. Actually, that I should go ahead and stop making any and all art forever. But also I got (and am still) very excited seeing Ginn destroy a "brilliant" musical and artistic legacy with a small colorful square. One of the best things to witness is a healthy fall from (some publicly perceived) grace, predetermined or not so predetermined. The most boring thing is when fans are precious or caring about a piece of art/music/movies/recipe/etc., shaming a creator when that creator wants to take whatever it is off the rails via personal choice and/or bad decision making and/or some vanguard art move. If some maniac has the real deal license to ruin their private or public history, fantastic. This is the current Grave New World (or The Misfits reunion of the 90/00’s if that Discharge reference is lost on you) and I love every moment of it, sincerely, without malice.

What, from a design standpoint, is wrong with it?
Everything.

What do you think the artist was going for?
My hope: To topple public's love affair with a tacky three cord, four bar nightmare; to crush sentimental memories/nostalgia for everyone including Ginn; to erase all future goodwill and ruin every would-be punk's Google image search of “Black Flag.”

The possible reality: A clueless adventure in bad taste by an old man.

If you were assigned to improve it, what would you do/change?
Nothing.

What do you think Black Flag are thinking right now?
Well, from what I understand, everyone in this new Black Flag is under Ginn’s oppressive control, so I hope they are thinking nothing and saying even less. Plus, what they are getting paid (I use that term speculatively considering what history may or may not tell us about Ginn’s business practices) for is probably better than whatever reality-based failure they had found themselves in before this fantasyland job came their way. "Job" being the optimal word and being a new hire usually means you keep your opinions real light.

How would you describe it to someone who has never seen it?
The greatest thing you never thought you wanted to see.


Brendan Donnelly
Has done artwork for:
Grizzly Bear, FIDLAR, Black Lips

What were your first impressions of it?
I laughed and thought it was appropriate for what the band has evolved into, present lawsuits included. I mean, look. Black Flag's logo and name have become a parody shirt for the Tumblr generation with its appropriation of the four bar logo and name. "Cat Flag," "Black Dads," "Justin Bieber," "Four Loko," "Xanax Bars," "Bacon Flag," "Enough Already" to name a few of the shirts you can buy on Etsy or at Urban Outfitters. There's even a Tumblr with celebrities like John Goodman, Eminem, Lindsey Lohan, etc. wearing Photoshopped Black Flag shirts. Then it hit me and I got really bummed out. I took a second and thought about what Black Flag's music meant to me as a teen (and adult) and how the album art/merch Raymond Pettibon created is the reason why I became an artist, and the reason why I still collect anything Pettibon/Black Flag that I can get my hands on. Hell, I went to Amoeba a few months ago and bought the Jealous Again vinyl because of the cover art and for the music which I've heard a million times. I prefer to live in the past with the old image of the band and its art, but they gotta make a living too and turn on the new generation of shitty kids. Let's hope they don't get turned by the new album art and get into anime.

What, from a design standpoint, is wrong with it?
I haven't seen the album in person, just online, and all the pics were kinda blurry and pixelated like it was taken from a flip phone. I hope thats what it actually looks like in person. If that's the case, nothing is wrong with it.

What do you think the artist was going for?
It reminded me of the CDs they put on the front display of the "punk" section at Sam Goody in the late 90s. Maybe that's what Ron Reyes was going for when he designed it? Being nostalgic for late 90s punk album art that everyone hated, knowing people (the internet) would talk about it? It worked, what we're doing that right now.

If you were assigned to improve it, what would you do/change?
I would make it say What The.. #%@*?!?! True mall punk/Warped Tour/fuck you, dad style.

What do you think Black Flag are thinking right now?
Here's what they're thinking:

"Fuck Pettibon for doing all the album art for OFF! Greg, call Raymond and work something out, pleaseeee."

"Who can we sue now for appropriating the four bar logo onto a shirt?" (present party included from my Black Flag/Pettibon arabic shirts from many years ago.)

"Why doesn't Del Taco deliver yet? Ughhhh, this is the worst."

How would you describe it to someone who has never seen it?
Imagine what the "edgy" boyfriend on the Power Puff Girls' would look like, but pixelated, kinda like the art a foundation year anime student at SVA would make.


Kyle Crawford (Electric Zombie)
Has done artwork for:
Alkaline Trio, Bad Religion, Blink-182

What were your first impressions of it?
I think my first impression was like everyone else, one word.... "Seriously?"

What, from a design standpoint, is wrong with it?
Let's work backwards and reverse psychology it, what's good about it? Well...it's uh, got the logo, and um, that splat is kind...of...cool? Maybe?

What do you think the artist was going for?
The title of the album says it all. I think from a marketing standpoint, it did its job. It got people angry, annoyed, and literally saying what the album title says.

If you were assigned to improve it, what would you do/change?
I don't think I could, or want to take on this project. What if artists out there hated my cover as much as they hated this one? I could never show my avatar on social networks again! No, but seriously, in my profession, you have to be quick, fast, reliable, and good. If you over think it, then it can bite you. This job takes you taking numerous things, throwing them at the wall, and hoping that something sticks. Sometimes, there are happy accidents, and those accidents are my portfolio pieces. A few months ago, I was asked to design for The Misfits, which I would jump on now, but three months ago, when I was selling my house, moving across country, and all that good garbage, I would have rushed the project, which with such an iconic band, you can't screw that up. If you do a bad job, you won't be asked to work on the project again. If you do a bad job and it gets approved, you have an ARMY of Misfits fans that will tongue lash you til your eyes bleed. Same case with Black Flag, I don't think I would want that kind of pressure.

What do you think Black Flag are thinking right now?
As pure speculation, if you put yourself in an OG Black Flag state of mind, it could be an FU to how the music industry has changed. No one buys albums. Everyone steals, pirates, and at the end of the day, the artwork takes a back seat. It could also be a "let's give them something to talk about" (I dare you not to sing that in your head as you read it), in which case it worked. How many people Googled, bitched, moaned, or even wrote articles like this one, from such an iconic band who is known for having outrageous, timeless, and controversial covers? In a sense, it still is, but the artwork is just god awful.

How would you describe it to someone who has never seen it?
It's funny, after looking at it for a while, it reminds me of this candy I used to eat as a kid called Ka-blueys. Awesome candy. One of those sour, tongue changing bubble gum candies.

At first, I hated the cover, but at the same time, it puts me back to a time where I used to ride my bike to the gas station to buy these hot-at-the-moment candies. There were tons of these cavity-giving goodies and Black Flag's cover looks nightmarishly like the packaging of said candies.


JP Flexner
Has done artwork for:
Man Man, Plow United, Foo Fighters

What were your first impressions of it?
I wondered why they chose this cover art. Really, why? Is it bad and out of touch, or are they trying to get at something? Like, maybe it's an "all-in" statement on the state of modern record art and fan expectations? Or it was like "Who needs Raymond? Let's prove a point and make the cover intentionally SUCK and nobody will notice as they carry us off chanting our names!"

What, from a design standpoint, is wrong with it?
Well, here is where I probably stray from a lot of other people you will talk to about this cover. While it doesn't personally speak to my taste in record art, it might very well have been exactly what 2013 Black Flag was after. If that is the case, then modern aesthetics and Black Flag fans be damned, it is a successful job and I can respect that.

What do you think the artist was going for?
A passing grade? "C or better"?

If you were assigned to improve it, what would you do/change?
I would ask to start from scratch and I would want to talk to the band at length about the record and really figure out what they are into (visually speaking). If they were totally stuck on keeping this art, I would pass on the job and suggest that they just find a crappy old copy machine and xerox all the panels of the record until they can barely read the type. Keep it B&W, analog, boiled down.

What do you think Black Flag are thinking right now?
Something like "Why is everyone making such a big deal about the damn cover? Everyone told us it was like, cool or whatever..."

How would you describe it to someone who has never seen it?
Imagine the new Black Flag record as one of the weirdly detailed, sloppy bits of background art from South Park, blown up and re-colored by Green Day the week Uno! came out.

Dan Ozzi is the contributing editor of Noisey and had to re-upload this cover FIVE times. It's like the website was rejecting it. Follow him on Twitter - @danozzi