Here is the latest cover of the NME, the third to be designed by Mark Neil, their new Art Director, ex of the Big Issue.

I think it’s great work;  the colour-way is bright without feeling cheap, the pop-art bubble is a a gesture rarely used with such confidence, and the picture management is a masterclass in what to do with four unrecognisable blokes wearing sunglasses sitting several yards apart.

Best of all, it doesn’t just rely on a great big headline shouting the name of the band. The words suggests insight, access and a point of view. Unfortunately, it hits a speed bump here, as unless I’m a die hard fan of the band, the words don’t actually mean anything. But that aside, the whole thing still feels really fresh and different.

Regular readers of this blog will know I’m a big fan of the fine work Mark did at the Big issue, this NME cover shows him continuing to work a similarly successful aesthetic.

But this is where the eternal dilemma of the NME cover reveals itself. Mark’s Big Issue covers were for the most part, breezy, feelgood posters, designed to stop the traffic and make a sale on a very broad editorial proposition. This NME cover maybe cut from the same cloth, but the NME brand is a very different sell.

At this point in time, the print version of the NME, like most other music papers, is tribal. It’s about Indie music, end of.

This means the cover inevitably attempts to reflect that content, which is not so very different from Mojo and Uncut’s retro pastiche, Mixmag’s ‘clubby’ feel or Classic Rock looking just that.

But unlike these titles, NME is weekly. Given how shallow the Indie pool is right now, this is way too frequent to create any sense of event from just sticking an interview with a band on the cover. Vaccines today, Foals tomorrow, does it really make any difference? I don’t think so.

The true challenge is to channel the audience, to understand who they are, what their hopes, fears and dreams are, and then talk to that, as opposed to a band’s press schedule.

Easy to say, of course, but there are choices here. Should the NME be more political, reflecting independent thought, as opposed to just Indie music? Or, should it become a lot more ‘fashion’, choosing the best looking band members for the covers, and trying to make Indie music feel truly sexy.

Or, should it capitalise on the one thing a weekly frequency does deliver, which is the ability to react to live events. Given that this is the only part of the music space that is really growing, along with the NME’s massive digital and social footprint, this seems to have a lot of potential.

All of these options require change, which is tricky enough, but to reflect any new positioning within the confines of the newsstand is another thing entirely. Should it be breathless and urgent? Is it cool and classic (check an earlier coverthink post which addresses the tension between timeless and timeliness), or, is it something different again. Underpinning everything, is that for a brand like the NME to succeed today, the cover has to work on social media. That means delivering either an incredible story, an amazing image or a dramatic piece of opinion.

Either way, they’re going to piss people off, which is of course exactly what the NME has to do to survive. Good luck to them.