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John Foster has deconstructed the design of the music industry through his personal work and his books, Maximum Page Design (HOW), New Masters of Poster Design (Rockport) and the upcoming For Sale: Innovative Solutions in Packaging Design (HOW) as well as a monograph of Sub Pop’s Art Director, Jeff Kleinsmith, slated for publication by the label in 2008.

He will be poking and prodding various albums on a weekly basis so please be sure to keep an eye out!

This week’s victims:

James Brown “Funky Christmas”

Is it worth listening to no matter what it looks like? For pure Christmas joy, this is right up there, with Elvis’s “Blue Christmas,” that Peanuts album, George Michael’s “Last Christmas” and Bing and Bowie’s “Little Drummer Boy.” Brown’s brand of funky soul exists in varying degrees of good to great. All you need to do is see that this contains “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto” to know that it is a must have. If you don’t own any Brown (shame on you) I recommend investing in Star Time as disc 2 and 3 are some of the finest funk ever dished out in succession.

Credit: “Photographs cortesy of Alan Leeds Archives, Package Design by Sheryl Lutz-Brown”

Any signs of creative interference in the design process by the artist? This is the very essence of a quick compilation package from PolyGram (tracks are originally from a few albums in the late 60s) so it seems pretty unlikely.

Does the look fit the sound? In the spirit of Christmas I should just say wonderful things but I can’t do it and have any confidence you, the kindly reader, will find me credible in the new year. So here goes…

Sheryl Lutz-Brown has been involved in hundreds of record covers from N’Sync to the Godfather of Soul and virtually every major jazz artist of the past 100 years. I can say with the utmost confidence that not one of her designs is even approaching anything past mediocre. Even when designing a re-issue series she somehow makes the original art look crappier. The fact that the photo is blurry and the wreath is built using a repeated badly executed vector graphic tells the tale. I wish it were so bad that it reached kitsch level and it almost does – just not quite there.

The package is only saved by Brown’s smiling mug in the Santa hat and then in the full suit on the back tray holding his belly. Classic.

Final score (out of 10): as a holiday present 10.0 for design 2.0