Sunday, March 29, 2015

Robert Fripp: Exposure

In July 1974, having finished the recording of the remarkable Red, Robert Fripp dissolved King Crimson, fully intending to never resurrect the band.  He made the amazing Evening Star with Brian Eno in 1975, but largely left music aside while attending to self-improvement.  This was during the period when rock was overwhelmed by the rising tide of punk, which, in turn, flamed out quickly.

Somehow, Fripp made the prescient decision to relocate to the Hell's Kitchen area of Manhattan in New York City, which was the ferment of a music scene that included Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Television, Talking Heads, Blondie and many others during those final years of the Seventies.  He states in the liners to Exposure that he fully intended to avoid music making because of frustration with industry greed, ego and other negative attributes.

In 1977, however, Eno and David Bowie called with a request for Fripp to travel to Berlin and record some guitar parts for a tune on a Bowie album.  On the title track of Heroes, Fripp recorded an amazing and distinctive guitar line that energized the song and his own career.

Part of the new trajectory was Fripp's emergence as a producer and he worked with Peter Gabriel on his second self-titled solo record, the Roches on their debut, and, surprisingly, white soul singer Darryl Hall on his first solo recording while on a break for the highly-successful Hall and Oates.  The original notes to Exposure indicate that Fripp's solo effort was the last of a trilogy including the Gabriel and Hall records and, sure enough, those two made significant contributions to the album.

So did Hell's Kitchen, New York City in general, and the music scene there.  Exposure is a stunning break from the environments in which Fripp worked from 1967 to 1974 and represent a bold leap into the future that was unlike anything his contemporaries had and have done (Robert Plant's more recent solo and collaborative work might be one of the few exceptions.)  It is also described by its creator as autobiographical as he attempted to find a new place for himself in a radically changing music world, but one, that for a brief period, in the post-punk world allowed for some self-development.  Or, as Fripp liked to call it--a drive to 1981 as a "small, mobile, intelligent unit."

Fripp's production work on Hall's Sacred Songs did not meet the approval of Hall's agent or label, which fretted about its lack of popular appeal and imposed stringent condition on its release and, as well, on Hall's contributions to Exposure.  The 1979 release of the latter, then, involved changes necessitated by those conditions.  A 1985 rerelease, based on a 1983 remix, restored Hall's vocals to three of the songs.  This allowed for a two-disc version on Fripp's own Discipline Global Mobile label in 2006.

The recording is a mixture of record conversations and snippets of speeches by a spiritual leader, J.G. Bennett, whom Fripp followed; ambient pieces of the form developed with Eno and dubbed Frippertronics by a then-girlfriend of the guitarist; short guitar-led instrumentals, and a wide variety of songs.  These latter include lovely ballads, such as "Mary," sung by Terry Roche, and the gorgeous "North Star" with vocals by Hall, more uptempo and hard rocking pieces like "You Burn Me Up, I'm a Cigarette," sung by Hall and "Disengage"; "Chicago," which were sung by Hall, but then by Van der Graaf Generator vocalist Peter Hamill, when Hall's versions were not authorized for release; and the duet between Hammill and Roche, "I May Not Have Enough of Me, But I've Had Enough of You."

The tracks that stood out most to this listener, in addition to "North Star" and "Disengage," are the disturbing, but compelling "NY3" and the stunning "Here Comes the Flood."  The former features recordings made by Fripp through the wall of his apartment of his neighbors fighting about a daughter's drug use and unwanted pregnancy and is a remarkably creative expression of music and found sound from someone coming out of the antiquated 1960s, but with both feet firmly planted in the future.  "Here Comes the Flood", on the other hand, is a picture perfect ballad, written with and sung by Gabriel, with Fripp and Eno providing minimal accompaniment.  More relevantly, the lyrics talk about the effects of environmental degredation--hardly the subject of much lyrically in rock, but, of course, of great timely import now.

In addition to the collaborators already mentioned, there is a bevy of talented performers including Phil Collins, then relatively unknown outside of hardcore Genesis fans, but soon to be a megastar with that group and as a solo performer; drummer Jerry Marotta, a sideman of longstanding; Micheal Narada Walden, another session stalwart on drums; XTC organist Barry Andrews, who would next collaborate with Fripp on the short-lived, but interesting and lively League of Gentlemen; steel and rhythm guitarist Sid McGinnis; and the great bassist Tony Levin, who'd been working and still does work with Gabriel, but became a member of the revived King Crimson and is still with that band today.

It is noteworthy that Fripp, who has made many solo recordings since, but all instrumental in the Frippertronics and then its successor, the digitally-made Soundscapes, modes, has not attempted anything like Exposure.  Not that this highly-creative artist should be expected to duplicate this record, but to go back to largely song-based structures with collaborators of the range and quality as those who appeared on it would be interesting to hear.  Almost forty years later, Exposure does not sound at all like an artifact of its time, but has a timeless and rovingly innovative quality that is a standout in the career of a remarkable artist.

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