An LP’s more extensive artwork was once one of the main arguments in the vinyl-versus-CD debate. Now that this discussion has lost its momentum and shifted more towards vinyl-versus-digital formats, the war is being fought on fronts other than the aesthetics of the packaging. Particularly because most current wax releases are rarely wrapped in more than a plain paper sleeve. Extremely small to non-existent profit margins have made fine cover artwork and well-designed booklets a luxury advocated by no more than a few inspired indie labels or expensive collector editions. Nevertheless, the lure of a beautiful cover persists in record shops, as proven by “Various – Rock Rally ‘82”, an intriguing collection of obscure Belgian music wrapped in artwork by an iconic pop-related graphics artist. Little more motivation is needed to get the wallet out.
The liner-notes state that the artwork has been designed by Ever Meulen & Eddy Flippo, but those are just two of Eddy Vermeulen’s pseudonyms – the first being his most famous. This Brussels-based illustrator is mostly known by his work for Flemish magazine HUMO, but he’s also had pieces published in Dutch music periodical Oor and he’s designed covers for RAW and The New Yorker. Following the Ligne Clair tradition pioneered by Hergé and developed further by Edgar P. Jacobs, Joost Swarte and many others, Ever Meulen’s drawings are typically laced with stories that ooze a rebellious sense of humour and a remarkable eye for the finer details of pop music culture. This made him ideally suited to designing artwork for Belgian oddballs of early electronic music, Telex. The “Neurovision” album and “More Than Distance” compilation are fine and reasonably priced additions to your art and/or record collection. For original work by the man himself, you’ll have to go to Sotheby’s or other esteemed galleries worldwide. Buying records – or prints and books – is an easier way to acquire an Ever Meulen collection.
The Rock Rally ’82 album showcases the finalists of the rock contest of the same name held in1982. This competition has been organised without fail every two years since 1978 by HUMO magazine. Over the years it has become an institution, with a line that reads like a who’s who of Belgian music (dEUS, Das Pop, Goose and Black Box Revelation…) Some editions ended with the recordings of the finals being pressed on LP or CD with Ever Meulen, the organiser’s in-house designer, often taking care of the artwork. This example is a big favourite, being as it is one of the few out on vinyl (hence bigger artwork), an extraordinary display of the artist’s skills and featuring music from one of the more exciting periods in this nation’s musical history. The fact that there’s an inner sleeve allowed the designer to go all out, and it’s also a good source of info for the music lover.
Belgium being Belgium, the mainstay of the contestants peddle a sound firmly based on a strong rock tradition. Some acts do slip in some electronica, reggae or other influences in their music, often resulting in the album’s highlights. The most inspiring moments are Gruppenbild’s (with Noordkaap’s Stijn Meuris) coldwave classic “Maatschappij”, 2 Belgen’s contribution of multifaceted synth-pop (which later lead them to considerable success) and Aroma Di Amore’s driving cross between punk and electro pop “Doe De Mafia”.
More than 30 years later and the latter are still going strong. They released a new and well-received album called “Samizdat” last year and are about to embark on a nationwide tour. A group that deserves a proper shout out, not only for their persistence, but also because they’re one of those groups Belgium seems to have in abundance that are justly popular among a select few worldwide but largely unknown by most.
The winner of that edition on the other hand, The Chrome, haven’t made much noise beyond that Rock Rally final.