How Pink Floyd’s ‘Momentary Lapse’ Cover Got Revamped: Interview
Changing iconic album artwork is never an easy or even necessarily advisable task. But Aubrey Powell, cofounder of the legendary English design group Hipgnosis, was happy to create something both fresh and familiar for Pink Floyd's latest archival release, A Momentary Lapse of Reason - Remixed & Updated.
"It's a bit like when a band revisits music they've made years and years before — like Pink Floyd has done here," Powell tells UCR. "I never get bored with it, I have to say. Technology has moved on so fast, and we have tools to use now that are better than what we had then, so why not take advantage of that? Revisiting, I think, is a good thing."
Powell used his late colleague Storm Thorgerson's original cover for A Momentary Lapse of Reason as the source material for the revised edition of the album. "It would be very difficult to get away from Storm's original concept of the 500 beds on a beach," Powell notes. "It would be very difficult to top that, it's so iconic. I think it deserved to be revisited and also to continue Storm's legacy with that."
Powell did, however, find another image from the July 1987 photo shoot on Staunton Sands in North Devon, England, which became the basis for the new package.
"What I found was a transparency where the sea had come in under the beds and created a reflection, and yet the French maid and the guy are still sitting there, acting unperturbed by the fact the sea was going to engulf them," Powell recalls. "I thought, 'I like this.' I liked the tension of the picture, and I just thought to myself that the tension that's in there is kind of like [the single] 'Learning to Fly' — there's an anxiousness and a nervousness, this element of 'What's going to happen?' Something apocalyptic is going to happen, which is very provocative."
Powell also took the glider that appears in the distance on the original album cover and made it a more prominent feature on Remixed & Updated. "I always liked the fact that [Thorgerson] had a little microlight plane in the background, but to me it was not used enough," he explains. "I thought, 'Why wouldn't you utilize that in some bigger and better way?' So I got a microlight plane, photographed it and put it right at the front of that picture. I think it captures your attention immediately and draws you into the picture to then look at the rest of it. It's a graphic conceit, if you like, just to get your attention, but it’s not a rerelease of the [original] picture. It's something different that's got more tension to it."
The plane's inclusion also nods to Pink Floyd's history of crashing planes as part of the group's live shows. "It references back to them always using a plane, a Spitfire generally, crashing into the wall," Powell notes. "So there's a lot of symbols there."
The Momentary Lapse update hails from Pink Floyd's 2019 box set The Later Years, for which Powell also created cover art and reedited the concert film The Delicate Sound of Thunder for theatrical and home video. It was a dramatic time in Pink Floyd's history, with David Gilmour and Nick Mason (and later Richard Wright) deciding to soldier on under the band name without Roger Waters, which led to a protracted legal battle.
It was the fans who declared victory for Pink Floyd, however, making A Momentary Lapse of Reason a Top 5, four-times platinum hit with three Top 5 Mainstream Rock Songs chart hits ("Learning to Fly," "On the Turning Away," "One Slip"), while the tour played to sold-out stadiums and arenas around the world, grossing around $135 million.
"A Momentary Lapse of Reason was, I think, a very groundbreaking record for them," Powell says. "They showed in terms of quality and music they were moving forward in a way one would expect of Pink Floyd. I didn't personally speak to David or Nick about that at the time, but I think Roger was probably rubbing his hands with glee thinking they couldn't pull it off, because there was no love lost between them and still isn't. But they actually pulled it together and made a decent album that was very successful."
In addition to his work on The Later Years and A Momentary Lapse of Reason, Powell also designed the Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains exhibit that opened in 2017 in London and is now at the Vogue Multicultural Museum in Los Angeles until Jan. 9. The latest installment includes cover art Powell has created for the upcoming reissue of 1977's Animals (expected during 2022), still using Battersea Power Station and the flying pig, but in a current context.
"The Battersea Power Station has been torn apart because they're refurbishing it with lots of apartments around it, and Google or Apple or one of those is taking over the station itself to move their offices into it," Powell says. "I was driving over a bridge nearby at night and there's hundreds of cranes around it, all with red lights on, and a big railway station with great shapes and shiny, and I thought, 'Wouldn't that be great?' So I had [photographer] Rupert Truman take a photograph of it, then we put in a pig and sent it to Roger, 'What do you think?' He said, 'Amazing! So interesting. It's the same thing, just different,' and funnily enough David, Nick, everybody loved it. So that's gonna be the new cover."
Powell adds that it was Waters' idea to add the image in Their Mortal Remains, and the response has been strong. "It looks spectacular, and everybody's saying, 'What's that? Where did it come from?'" Powell says. "It's something new, but that's exactly what I'm talking about — revisiting something, making it different, making it new. I love that."