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Best 2000s Album Covers: 10 Great Artworks From The Noughties
List & Guides

Best 2000s Album Covers: 10 Great Artworks From The Noughties

From artful imaginings to dystopian concepts, the best 2000s album covers capture the essence of a turbulent decade.

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The 2000s were a politically turbulent era. As 9/11 led to George W Bush’s crusade against the “axis of evil” and two million people marched in London to protest the Iraq War, the music of the decade voiced both uncertainty and a desire for escapism. Matching the music for impact, the best 2000s album covers not only captured the political mood of the time, but also left a strong visual impression that endures to this day.

In a world of competing ideologies, these artworks aimed to shake us from our apathy, either through surrealistic, childlike creativity or through pointed social commentary, with many becoming iconic representations of the era. From the whimsical world of The Flaming LipsYoshimi Battles The Pink Robots to the dystopian allure of Radiohead’s Hail To The Thief, the best 2000s album covers showcase the best the decade had to offer.

Listen to our Pop playlist here, and check out the best 2000s album covers, below.

10: Blur: ‘Think Tank’ (2003)

In 2003, Blur convinced the mysterious graffiti artist Banksy to design the sleeve for their seventh album, Think Tank. Unsurprisingly, the controversial satirist came up with the goods, designing one of the best 2000s album covers, thanks to an image that features two deep-sea divers locked in a loving embrace. “I’ve done a few things to pay the bills, and I did the Blur album,” Banksy later said, in a rare public statement. “It was a good record.” The album went on to sell 1.5 million copies worldwide, and the value of Banksy’s contribution became apparent when his original artwork sold at auction in 2007 for £75,000.

Artist/designer: Banksy

Think Tank Blur

9: Green Day: ‘American Idiot’ (2004)

In the wake of George W Bush’s “War On Terror”, nobody expected pop-punk legends Green Day to mount the kind of comeback they did in 2004 with American Idiot: a fully fledged rock opera attacking the era’s jingoistic ignorance, it landed with the full force of one of the best 2000s songs (the title track) and never let up from there. Remarkably, the album cover, designed by Chris Bilheimer, was reportedly created in just 30 minutes. “I got a call from Billie Joe [Armstrong, frontman], who was looking at old movie posters by Saul Bass,” Bilheimer said in an interview with WWW. Inspired by Bass’ illustration style, Bilheimer came up with a heart-shaped grenade and “rammed it out” in record time. Capturing the zeitgeist better than anyone expected, the American Idiot artwork perfectly suited the band’s anti-war message, and, two decades later, its place among the best 2000s album covers holds firm, as Green Day fans still proudly wear T-shirts bearing its image.

Designer: Chris Bilheimer

American Idiot Green day

8: The Streets: ‘Original Pirate Material’ (2002)

An era-defining fusion of 2-step garage with quintessentially British social commentary, The Streets’ debut album, Original Pirate Material, boasts not only one of the best 2000s album covers, but also many of the best Streets songs. The cover art features a photo of a London apartment block called Kestrel House, originally taken at night in 1995 by German photographer Rut Blees Luxemburg, as part of her A Modern Project series. “You can almost see into the people’s apartments,” Luxemburg later said of the photo, in an interview with The FADER. “Everything is sharp, so you can really immerse yourself in the city.” Picturing some flats empty and others lit up in yellow, the album cover is a perfect fit for Mike Skinner’s lyrical portraits of working-class life and urban struggle.

Photographer: Rut Blees Luxemburg

Original Pirate Material The Streets

7: Biffy Clyro: ‘Puzzle’ (2007)

As they were preparing to take their place among the best 2000s bands, Scottish rockers Biffy Clyro turned to Pink Floyd’s favourite designer, Storm Thorgerson, of Hipgnosis, to create the cover for their fourth album, Puzzle. The image Thorgerson came up with depicts a naked man covered in puzzle marks, sitting on a stool in an empty room and clutching his head in despair, seemingly oblivious to the missing puzzle piece sitting on the floor beside him. “I just like the fact that there might be a potential story there,” Thorgerson said in Clash magazine. “In Puzzle, there is clearly a story but you’ve no idea what it is.” Suggestive of the self-imposed blindness of both depressive isolation and existential emptiness, Biffy Clyro’s Puzzle artwork easily earns its place among the best 2000s album covers.

Designer: Storm Thorgerson/Hipgnosis

Puzzle Biffy Clyro

6: Coldplay: ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’ (2002)

Depicting a grayscale, incomplete 3D rendering of a woman’s shoulder and head against a white backdrop, the artwork for Coldplay’s A Rush Of Blood To The Head is a shoo-in among the best 2000s album covers. Featuring spike-like points emerging from the base of the girl’s neck, the image was designed by Norwegian photographer Sølve Sundsbø and hints at everything from fragmentation of self to technological dislocation. Having seen the image in a magazine, Coldplay songwriter Chris Martin sought Sundsbø’s permission to use it for the album cover, and would later go on to collaborate with Sundsbø for subsequent single releases from the album, using 3D scans of each Coldplay member’s head.

Illustrator: Sølve Sundsbø

A Rush Of Blood To The Head Coldplay

5: Gorillaz: ‘Demon Days’ (2005)

Seemingly a homage to The Beatles’ iconic Let It Be album cover, the artwork for Gorillaz’ 2005 album, Demon Days, instantly made a bid for cultural significance. Designed by Jamie Hewlett and his graphic-design company, Zombie Flesh Eaters, the image features profiles of Gorillaz’s illustrated band members (Murdoc Niccals, 2-D, Noodle and Russel Hobbs) in a grid of four white squares against a black background. Also appearing in some of the best 2000s music videos, Hewlett’s timeless Gorillaz imagery still adorns band T-shirts and merchandise to this day.

Artist/designer: Jamie Hewlett/Zombie Flesh Eaters

Demon Days Gorillaz

4: Death From Above 1979: ‘You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine’ (2004)

Little is known about the story behind the album cover for Death From Above 1979’s seminal debut album. You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine, but what can be agreed upon is that it is a truly era-defining entry among the best 2000s album covers. Featuring an illustration of bandmates Jesse F Keeler and Sebastien Grainger with noses like elephant trunks and set against a neon-pink background, it’s a surreal and visually striking image that conjures an enigmatic air of mystery to complement the band’s raw and unconventional fusion of dance-punk and noise rock.

Designer: JFK

DFA1979

3: Muse: ‘Absolution’ (2003)

Featuring a lone man staring up at the sky, the cover for Muse’s Absolution album taps into frontman Matt Bellamy’s post-apocalyptic lyrical themes, courtesy of shadows cast on the floor by a squadron of mysterious floating figures. Created by Hipgnosis founder Storm Thorgerson, the image benefitted from the same enigmatic qualities Thorgerson brought to the best Pink Floyd album covers. “The sleeve reminded me of a children’s illustration by Maurice Sendak: full of magic, like a fairy tale,” Thorgerson said in an interview with Louder. “I felt it had a strong graphic element as much as a narrative element, and the two together are what makes the image work.”

Designer: Storm Thorgerson/Hipgnosis

Absolution Muse

2: Radiohead: ‘Hail To The Thief’ (2003)

During a trip to Los Angeles, inspiration for the artwork for Radiohead’s 2003 album, Hail To The Thief, came to designer Stanley Donwood as he was stuck in traffic, looking at the advertising billboards. After scribbling down various words, he created an abstract depiction of the Hollywood Hills for the album cover, arranging a field of words in multicoloured boxes beneath the topsoil, among them “GOD”, “TV”, “OIL” and “SECURITY”. Commenting on the influence of the mass media and consumerism, Donwood would go on to create a series of works for Radiohead which smuggled post-9/11 buzzwords into topography. “I wrote all the words down then cut them up and put them together in rough maps,” Donwood explained to NME. “The artwork were maps of cities that had some relationship with the war against terror.”

Illustrator/designer: Stanley Donwood

Hail to The Thief

1: The Flaming Lips: ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots’ (2002)

Created as a painting by The Flaming Lips’ mainman, Wayne Coyne, the artwork for Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots is a marvel which brings the sci-fi themes of what’s one of the best 2000s albums to life. “I think I’m a visual artist who is lucky enough to be in a crazy, almost absurdist art-rock band that is endlessly in need of something visual,” Coyne explained to Hyperallergic in 2013. Depicting the titular Yoshimi facing off against a giant pink robot, it’s a vibrantly colourful and quirky work of art that’s simply begging for an animated feature-film adaptation. Coyne’s image reacted to a war-weary decade by envisioning an authoritarian force beyond our control, and that’s just one of the reasons why it tops our list of the best 2000s album covers.

Illustrator/designer: Wayne Coyne

Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots

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