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:

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 to Be 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!


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


  • Paint­ing by P J Crook


  • Paint­ing by P J Crook


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


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


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One thought on “The Art of King Crimson’s The Power to Believe

  1. 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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