Much to their shock and horror – and naturally contrary to their intentions – Beady Eye’s ‘BE’ album cover was censored in supermarkets after bosses got jittery about displaying the rather prominent naked nipple. Liam Gallagher protested to NME in advance, saying. “It’s sexy, it’s a nipple you can bring home to your mother. It’s not porn, is it? It’s classic, man. Classic nipple.” But despite the watertight argument, the stores didn’t budge. Beady Eye had to suck it up in order to shift some units and ward off Liam’s retirement.
Whatever the inconvenience, artists continue to poke the censors – and fellow artists. Here are 10 more covers that flirted with controversy one way or another.
Manic Street Preachers, ‘Journal For Plague Lovers’
Like 1994’s ‘The Holy Bible’, the Manics’ ninth album came wrapped in artwork by Jenny Saville. “We just thought it was a beautiful painting,” James Dean Bradfield told BBC 6Music, but the major supermarkets found it ugly. Inappropriate, even. ASDA, Sainsbury’s and Tesco chose instead to squirrel it away in a plain slipcase just in case customers who wanted a bit of spiky agit-rock with their groceries were put off.
Kanye West, ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’
What is wrong with people? Why can’t they see the exquisite beauty in Kanye West enjoying a bottle of beer while being straddled by a demonic naked phoenix with a dalmatian’s tail coming out of her backside? The artist George Condo reckoned Kanye was looking for controversy – yes, really – and that’s what he got. Amazon chose to go with the ‘Runaway’ single image of a ballerina, while other retailers preferred the painting of Kanye’s decapitated bonce with a sword stuck in it. Deep.
Arctic Monkeys, ‘Suck It And See’
In 2011, Arctic Monkeys’ fourth album fell foul of the US censors who couldn’t understand that Alex Turner and colleagues were simply tempting prospective buyers to give their music a try. It’s a well-known phrase. At worst it’s referring to a lollipop, surely? Prurient fun-foilers at some of the larger retailers chose to sticker the offending title. “They think it’s rude and disrespectful,” said an innocent, wide-eyed Turner.
Vampire Weekend, ‘Contra’
VW producer and jack-of-all-trades Rostam Batmanglij found the Polaroid used on the cover of second album ‘Contra’ when burrowing through an archive of 1983 pictures, looking for a certain aesthetic. Like they do. “The picture is an actual candid document of a person in New York City in 1983,” singer Ezra Koenig told Pitchfork. “Those are the clothes that she was wearing and how she did her hair that day.” What she wasn’t doing at that point was allowing a band to use her image without permission 28 years later. Ann Kirsten Kennis sued Vampire Weekend, eventually settling for an undisclosed sum.
The Game, ‘Jesus Piece’
Jesus in a gangsta banner with cannabis leaves rendered in glorious stained glass behind him – it’s a real wonder LA rapper The Game found himself in a spot of bother after putting this one out. The controversy escalated to the point that the Roman Catholic Church apparently dropped Interscope Records a line to express its displeasure. Oh, to be a fly on the wall when that call came through. The Game bowed to holy pressure and replaced the image with one of his late brother. He kept the contentious original for the deluxe version, the scamp.
Crystal Castles, ‘Crystal Castles’
Not just the cover, this. A beaten up and bruised picture of Madonna was the wholesome cover of choice for Crystal Castles’ debut album, but Ethan Kath and Alice Glass also plastered it over t-shirts and posters. No word on what Madonna herself thought about it, but the artist Trevor Brown kicked off and distributors also baulked at the image. It ended up a result for everyone – that shot of the pair, heads down in front of a garage door, is equally iconic, right?
Sufjan Stevens, ‘Illinois’
What the blazes could be wrong with the lovely cartoon on the cover of Sufjan Stevens’ wordy epic? It was The Man of Metropolis himself, who caught the eye of Stevens’ label lawyers, wary of repercussions from a disgruntled DC Comics. Stevens responded by covering Superman up with a handful of balloons, and later repressings of the album incorporated the anodyne replacement. He got away with ‘The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts’ though.
Limp Bizkit, ‘Gold Cobra’
All class, this lot. No doubt Fred Durst and chums were astonished when their cover shot of three semi-naked ladies being assailed by a giant snake didn’t meet with global approval, their plans for a family-friendly, mature hit scuppered. Monster US retail corporations Target and Best Buy wouldn’t stock the thing, which explains why it sold – ooh – half a dozen copies? Well, that and the fact it was a Limp Bizkit album released in 2011.
Bat For Lashes, ‘The Haunted Man’
Just goes to show that even a tasteful picture without any prominent rude bits can still get the supermarkets all of a flutter. Natasha Khan’s 2012 album was all about laying herself bare, figuratively and literally. As she told NME writer Andy Welch, “The cover isn’t about sexuality, but the rich tapestry of things you can represent with a naked body; honesty and simplicity.” That didn’t stop supermarkets whacking stickers on it, the philistine prudes.
Death Grips, ‘No Love Deep Web’
Speaking of prominent rude bits… This one never made it as far as the shops, but – along with sensible websites – the band themselves issued a censored version of their erect-member classic to display on Soundcloud and YouTube. Theysaw the image as “spiritual”. Yeah, let’s go with that.