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Robert Fripp - Exposure CD (album) cover


Robert Fripp


Eclectic Prog

3.66 | 205 ratings

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4 stars I feel like Robert Fripp's life between the 70's and 80's incarnations of King Crimson would make for a surprisingly interesting documentary or biopic. Imagine this pitch: a famous guitarist breaks up the band where he's been the de facto center for several years, just as the kind of music that band played is falling out of fashion with the general musical community. After a little dinking around, he quits the music industry completely and joins what some might consider a cult (The Fourth Way, originally conceived by a man named George Gurdjieff). After leaving this "cult" and taking some gigs, he moves to New York (Hell's Kitchen) and works to rebuild his career from scratch, doing support work for a musical movement that was, in part, a rejection of the type of music that had brought him fame in the first place. Incredibly, he becomes a mainstay of this new growing musical community, and eventually starts a new band (with the same name as the one he ended) that's basically a bridge between the music he left behind and the music that had come to embrace him. I don't know about you, but I'd definitely be interested in watching this once or twice.

In the midst of this stretch, which found Fripp doing groundbreaking work in support of Talking Heads, David Bowie, and less likely acts such as Blondie and others, he found himself involved in a trilogy of sorts where he would serve as producer and a collaborator across all three. One of these was Peter Gabriel's second album, which kinda made sense: Robert and Peter were in somewhat the same boat, former prog rock gods trying to carve out a new niche, and Robert had appeared on Peter's first album under an assumed name. One of these was a collabaration with Darryl Hall of Hall and Oates, which didn't seem to make sense: RCA was so freaked out by the relatively non-commercial nature of Sacred Songs (which, as of writing, I have not yet heard, though I'm curious) that they refused for two years to release the album, though it ended up being regarded well once it came out. And the third was Exposure, which not only features Hall and Gabriel on vocals (as well as Peter Hammill, yet another ex-prog rock leadman trying to force a niche in a post-prog rock world) but also has some crossover in actual song material (albeit in different versions). The title track would appear on Peter Gabriel 2; "Urban Landscape" (as well as "You Burn Me up I'm a Cigarette" and "North Star" among the bonus tracks) would appear on Sacred Songs; and "Here Comes the Flood," from Peter Gabriel's first album, would appear here in a very different form from the version on that album.

I find Exposure a little less stellar now than I did the first couple of times I listened to it in full, but I still think it's pretty remarkable. It's a fascinating span of the kind of music that held Robert's interest at the time: the album has boogie-rock, instrumentals in the vein of "Red," cacophonous screamer rock, dreamy ballads, tweaked blues rock (what else could I call "Chicago?"), cutting edge experiments, lots of soundscaping and lots of effective uses of sampling. The two tracks with Hall on vocals help make the choice of Adrian Belew for the next version of Crimson all the clearer; Fripp apparently thought Hall was the best vocalist he'd ever worked with, and seeing how Belew was basically a (maybe slightly inferior) dead ringer for Hall vocally, this made his selection all the easier. "You Burn Me up I'm a Cigarette" (coming after "Preface," a silly introduction sampling Fripp saying he's come up with material that might have commercial appeal, and some processed layered Hall vocals) does "Boogie Rock ... from the FUTURE" proud, and it's a blast to hear Robert knocking out lines like this over fun piano. "North Star" is basically an eerie precursor to "Matte Kudasai," right down to having Tony Levin on bass (and Phil Collins on drums! Not quite Bruford, but pretty close), and Fripp's guitar is just as dreamy here as there (though with a little less in the way of soundscaping).

I'm also very fond of the tracks featuring Peter Hammill on vocals. In addition to the menacing, bluesy "Chicago," "Disengage" and especially "I May Not Have Had Enough of Me but I've Had Enough of You" feature some absolutely pummelling riffage, and it's fun to hear Peter in full- blown "What are those horrible things you're doing to your vocal chords??" mode. "I May Not ..." also contains some very excited, noisy vocals from Terry Roche of The Roche Sisters, who makes an impact in a couple other tracks. "Mary" is another ballad loosely in the "Matte Kudasai" vein (albeit with Terry sounding like Joni Mitchell to me), but Terre's main showcase is definitely on the title track, a slow rhythmic soundscaped pounder (with a voice repeatedly spelling out the name of the track and another voice, I would assume Fripp, intermittently intoning, "It is impossible to achieve the aim without suffering") with her doing HORRIBLE things to her voice as she sings the title over and over. When people affix the "avant-punk" description to this album, I feel like the title track is the main reason for it.

The instrumentals are of mixed quality. "Breathless" is a terrific bridge between, say, "Red" and "Larks III," and "NY3" (which has a goofy organ and an indecipherable argument in the background) features some lines that definitely hearken back to "Larks I," but "Haaden Two" (with some more intermittent random vocal samples, including one of Robert saying, "What a dismal, pathetic chord sequence") is a bore, and "Urban Landscape" is just a fillerish drone whose main benefit is luring me into enough of a stooper that "I May Not ..." startles me when it starts up. The instrumentals that provide the most impact, though, are "Water Music I" (a brief soundscaped introduction to "Here Comes the Flood," featuring a voice talking about an impending ice age) and "Water Music II" (a lengthy soundscape following "Flood"), which provide an appropriate atmospheric bookend to the album's greatest highlight. "Here Comes the Flood" here is miles above the Peter Gabriel I version: while the original was overproduced and bloated to the point of ruining the song, this one is stripped down to Peter on solo piano and vocals, Robert playing some quiet atmospheric guitar lines, and Brian Eno contributing a smidge of synthesizer here and there. The end result is breathtaking, uncovering a marvelous melody and an emotional heft that had no chance to break through the orchestrations of the original. I have a longtime love and adoration for the piano-only version of the song on Peter's Shaking the Tree compilation, but this one has to take the prize of the best official version of the track.

And that's your album. Maybe it's not close to perfect, but it's extremely remarkable as both a collection of ideas and as a statement of purpose, and it shows that Robert had enough going on in his head that a new version of King Crimsom was pretty inevitable. I should note that the 2006 remaster contains two versions of the album: the original, and a 1982 version that's mostly just a remix but also has some lineup differences (like Daryl Hall singing "Disengage" instead of Peter Hammill).

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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