Why Bowie's new album art looks shockingly familiar

For David Bowie's new album art, leading designer Jonathan Barnbrook has recycled an old design - find out why.

The new album design - essentially the Heroes cover with a white square over it

The world's going Bowie-mad right now, as the veteran singer launches his new album, his first in 10 years, on his 66th birthday. But the cover design (above) may shock you. It's exactly the same image as that of his 1977 album 'Heroes'. The only difference is a white box covering the singer's face and containing the new title, 'The Next Day', while the original title is crossed-out. So what's the story?

Bowie veteran

The artwork was created by graphic designer, film maker and typographer Jonathan Barnbrook, who has long history of involvement with Bowie; he's perhaps best known for his cover artwork for the 2002 album Heathen, which featured the debut for his Priori typeface.

With 2013 promising to be the year of Bowie's comeback, Barnbrook is also back in the spotlight. He's designed the artwork for the new single, the new album, plus the website - all of which feature a new, specially designed font, Doctrine, which will be released in the coming weeks at VirusFonts.

While singer Boy George earlier announced his love for the album design (proclaiming on Twitter, "It's bloody art!"), its starkly reductionist cut-and-paste approach have understandably raised eyebrows.

Chained to the past

Barnbrook has offered this explanation on his blog. "No matter how much we try, we cannot break free from the past... People will judge you always in relation to your history no matter how much you try to escape it. The obscuring of an image from the past is also about the wider human condition; we move on relentlessly in our lives to the next day, leaving the past because we have no choice but to."

Barnbrook worked on hundreds of ways to obscure the original cover but "the strongest ones were the simplest... it had to be something that was in direct contrast to the image underneath but that wasn’t too contrived." He adds that: "Obscuring Bowie’s image is also reference to his identity, not only in the past when he changed endlessly but that he has been absent from the music scene for the past ten years. Was this an act to hide is identity or that he has simply become more comfortable with his own identity?"

The Berlin connection

Barnbrook chose the cover of Heroes specifically because one of the songs on the new album, the new single 'Where Are We Now?', compares Berlin when the wall fell and the city today: "Most people know of Bowie’s heritage in Berlin and we want people to think about the time when the original album was produced and now."

In conclusion, Barnbrook admits: "We know it is only an album cover with a white square on it but often in design it can be a long journey to get at something quite simple which works and that simplicity can work on many levels."

Watch this! New Bowie single 'Where Are We Now?'

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