The Art of King Crimson’s The Power to Believe

King Crimson The Power to Believe

The Power to Believe, King Crimson’s lat­est album to date, is now almost a decade old. There are occa­sional glim­mers of life in the world of Crim­son (most notably the 2008 40th Anniver­sary tour/victory lap, the Jak­szyk, Fripp and Collins Pro­jeKct A Scarcity of Mir­a­cles, and the Crim­son Pro­jeKct live band) but it’s entirely pos­si­ble The Power to Believe will stand as the final state­ment (the epi­taph, if you will) by this fas­ci­nat­ingly com­plex band.

The Power to Believe was released in March 2003, just as the U.S. launched its mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in Iraq. Much of the music was com­posed dur­ing the 9/11 after­math and the war in Afghanistan. Cre­ated in this cli­mate, it’s not sur­pris­ing that the music and the album cover are fit­tingly apoc­a­lyp­tic. Despite every­thing, the album title and some aspects of the art­work do pro­vide hints of hope and new life to coun­ter­bal­ance the gloom.

King Crimson The Power to Believe
King Crimson’s The Power to Believe, with the orig­i­nal paint­ing by P J Crook recon­fig­ured for the stan­dard CD book­let format

The art­work is derived from a paint­ing by P J Crook enti­tled “Fin de Siecle (The Power to Believe)”. Pamela June Crook is self-described on her web­site as an “Eng­lish woman painter of grotesque crowds, ren­dered in strongly col­ored acrylic”. While her work has appeared on numer­ous King Crimson-related CD and DVD releases, it does not seem that her work has been used on any other pop­u­lar music pack­ages. The only other artists to have worked on so many related releases are Res­i­dent DGM designer Hugh O’Donnell, the Bill Smith Stu­dio (who worked on almost every­thing between Frame by Frame: The Essen­tial King Crim­son and THRAK) and John Miller (whose hori­zon paint­ings adorn many of Pro­jeKct 2 releases and Robert Fripp’s Sound­scape albums).

A selection of King Crimson-related album covers featuring artwork by P J Crook
A selec­tion of King Crimson-related album cov­ers fea­tur­ing art­work by P J Crook. Includ­ing: The Night­watch, Level Five, Heavy Con­struKc­tion, Absent Lovers, A Scarcity of Mir­a­cles, Epi­taph, Ladies of the Road, The Great Deceiver, Masque, The Decep­tion of the Thrush, VROOOM VROOOM, and Live at the Jazz Café

Crook’s art­work was mostly reserved for Pro­jeKct releases (like Live at the Jazz Café and Masque), EPs (like Level Five and Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With), or archival live releases (like Epi­taph and The Night­watch). The Power to Believe is the only actual King Crim­son stu­dio album to fea­ture Crook art­work. While I very much like the paint­ing, I believe the choice of P J Crook for one of the proper stu­dio albums slightly den­i­grates it by asso­ci­a­tion. Part of the point of the Pro­jeKct albums was for the band to exper­i­ment out of the glare of the spot­light often shown upon any new album released under the name King Crim­son. The Crook paint­ings drew together many of the Pro­jeKct albums and archival live releases into a uni­fied brand, so while The Power to Believe is a fully-fledged new King Crim­son album, it doesn’t look like one on the outside.

King Crimson P J Crook painting Fin de Siecle (The Power to Believe)
The full P J Crook paint­ing “Fin de Siecle (The Power to Believe)” (source: www.eaa.ee/draakon/crook.HTM)

The orig­i­nal art­work is designed as a series of dis­creet pan­els, arranged in a man­ner some­what resem­bling an open taber­na­cle. Three very dif­fer­ent worlds appear in the strata of pan­els: ide­al­ized sky above, mil­i­tary indus­trial anx­i­ety on the ground, and hedo­nism below. A sin­gle white dove appears above every­thing, either tak­ing off or land­ing, flanked by a pair of sta­tion­ary black crows. Viewed in iso­la­tion, the sky looks like a beau­ti­ful sun­set. But just below, we see that the burnt orange clouds orig­i­nate from an indus­tri­al­ized, pol­luted world. We see a nurse in a gas mask, tend­ing to a limp infant as sin­is­ter mil­i­tary forces patrol out­side. Lit­er­ally and per­haps metaphor­i­cally, a entirely dif­fer­ent class of peo­ple appears to be liv­ing a jubi­lant life below ground, with drink­ing, gam­bling, and danc­ing girls.

Designer Hugh O’Donnell is cred­ited with the album pack­age. The band name and album title are set in Hel­vetica Neue 83 Heavy Extended. He recon­fig­ured Crook’s paint­ing for the stan­dard CD jewel case pack­age for­mat, with only the mid­dle strata appear­ing on the front cover. If Crook’s paint­ing had appeared in its orig­i­nal full form, it would bear com­par­i­son to the assem­blage of minia­ture scenes com­pris­ing the illu­mi­nated man­u­script cover to Lizard.

King Crimson Happy to Be Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With and Shoganai
Two ver­sions of the EP that her­alded The Power to Believe: Happy to Be Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With (in the US and Europe) and Shoganai (in Japan)

The Power to Believe was pre­saged with an EP in Octo­ber 2002. It was released with dif­fer­ent art­work and titles; in the US and Europe as Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With and in Japan as Shoganai. Both paint­ings are by P J Crook.

The title track “Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With” is, for my money, one of the most inten­tion­ally hilar­i­ous Crim­son songs (as I’ve said before, I think the band’s sense of humor is often under­ap­pre­ci­ated; see also “Cat Food” and “Ele­phant Talk”). But while the verses tell a very amus­ing tale of Arian Belew’s song­writ­ing process, the cho­rus expresses a rather darker sen­ti­ment: a kind of res­ig­na­tion or sur­ren­der to life as you have it, rather than how it might become with an effort to improve.

Reflect­ing this inter­pre­ta­tion, the West­ern cover art depicts a nuclear fam­ily con­tented by the trap­pings of mod­ern life: fix­ated on a glow­ing tele­vi­sion screen, hop­ing their gam­ble on lot­tery tick­ets pays off. Even the fam­ily cat is in full repose. The Japan­ese phrase shoganai roughly trans­lates as “it can’t be helped”. In its more pos­i­tive sense, it relates to dig­nity in the face of adver­sity. In the neg­a­tive fatal­is­tic sense, it describes com­pla­cency or apathy.

King Crimson The Power to Believe Tour Box
The Power to Believe Tour Box dou­bled as the offi­cial tour souvenir

The Power to Believe Tour Box was a com­pi­la­tion CD exclu­sively sold dur­ing the fol­low­ing tour. It was pack­aged in a DVD-sized case, includ­ing a printed tour pro­gram. The art­work fea­tures a Crook paint­ing of gas-mask-clad char­ac­ter sim­i­lar to those appear­ing on the “Fin de Siecle (The Power to Believe)” paint­ing, pre­vi­ously used on the back of The Power to Believe CD tray inlay. The white dove at the bot­tom of the Tour Box cover is from the top of the orig­i­nal paint­ing, and also appears on the back of The Power to Believe CD booklet.

King Crimson Elektrik
The 2006 live album Elektrik

The single-disc live album EleK­triK was belat­edly released in 2006, also fea­tur­ing a P J Crook paint­ing. Of note, all of the mate­r­ial is new save for one song hail­ing from the mid 1990s. Crook’s paint­ing depicts a crowd drink­ing beer and aghast at some sort of spec­ta­cle out of our sight. Per­haps the audi­ence is full of old-time Crim­son fans upset the band didn’t play more mate­r­ial from the 60s, 70s, and 80s!

THE POWER TO BELIEVE ART & DESIGN CREDITS:

  • Cover art­work from Fin de Siecle by P J Crook
  • Design: Hugh O’Donnell

HAPPY WITH WHAT YOU HAVE TO BE HAPPY WITH ART & DESIGN CREDITS:

  • Paint­ing by P J Crook

SHOGANAI ART & DESIGN CREDITS:

  • Paint­ing by P J Crook

THE POWER TO BELIEVE TOUR BOX ART & DESIGN CREDITS:

  • Art­work by P J Crook
  • Design by Hugh O’Donnell

ELEKTRIK ART & DESIGN CREDITS:

  • Paint­ing by P J Crook
  • Design by Hugh O’Donnell

FURTHER READING:


Buy any of these fine prod­ucts from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report:

 

2 thoughts on “The Art of King Crimson’s The Power to Believe

  1. The title track is just “Happy with What You Have to be Happy With”, not “Happy to Be Happy With What You Have to Be Happy With”, I’m happy to say.

  2. Won­der­ful work and a very smart deci­sion to use PJ Crook (by Robert Fripp). I feel the cover cer­tainly depicts the times we live in.

    Thanks for your well informed arti­cle. In an era where album art is nearly extinct (see David Bowie’s new album cover), it’s much appreciated.

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