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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Robert Fripp: Exposure


1) Preface; 2) You Burn Me Up I'm A Cigarette; 3) Breathless; 4) Disengage; 5) North Star; 6) Chicago; 7) NY3; 8) Mary; 9) Exposure; 10) Haaden Two; 11) Urban Landscape; 12) I May Not Have Enough Of Me But I've Had Enough Of You; 13) First Inaugural Address To The I.A.C.E. Sherborne House; 14) Water Music I; 15) Here Comes The Flood; 16) Water Music II; 17) Postscript.

General verdict: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the latest musical digest from your local chef, Mr. Robert Fripp.

It is a tad reassuring to know that Robert Fripp is, after all, a creature of flesh and blood and not some sort of super-robot who always knows things better than you and is completely aware of all his goals and tasks at any given moment. If you listen to Red, or if you listen to Discipline, you will probably not get that feeling. But Exposure, Robert's first solo album, released at a time when King Crimson still seemed like a thing of the past and the future of music in general and Fripp in particular was more than a bit blurry, is an amusing mess — one that probably would not make much sense outside of its historical context, but is an obligatory must-hear if you ever wondered about all the empty space in between Mark '74 and Mark '81 King Crimson, and about whether it was truly empty in the first place.

In reality, Fripp kept himself seriously busy throughout the second half of the Seventies. The emerging punk and New Wave scene, as much as they confused some of the earlier rockers, re-invigorated his own passion for discovery, and in this he shared a common interest with such venerated colleagues as Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel, and Peter Hammill — all of whom, unsur­prisingly, are featured on this album. He'd spent plenty of time working on Eno's and Gabriel's projects — and even more time dwelling in New York, absorbing the local scene. He made a lot of friends in those years, too, which almost seems odd, given the man's personal reputation; yet he was able to get on with pop bands like Blondie the same way he could get with haughty art-rockers. In the end, the amount and variety of collaborative talent on Exposure is overwhelming: Eno, Gabriel, and Hammill represented in the same space with Daryl Hall (of Hall & Oates), Terre Roche (of The Roches), and XTC's Barry Andrews.

Thematically, the album was supposed to be the third part of a «trilogy» that also included Hall's Sacred Songs and Peter Gabriel's second album — with Fripp as the creative glue to join them all, and the main ideology declared as spreading progressive and challenging ideas through the medium of the short pop song, something that Robert obviously held in disdain during the first five years of King Crimson, but which was now coming back and relegating the lengthy suites and stretched-out improv jams to the dustbin of history. However, all these albums still reflect the character of their primary artists more than any sort of common ideology — and Exposure, in particular, serves as an important missing link between 1974 and 1981 far more than it serves as the logical completion of something that began as ʽSacred Songsʼ and went on as ʽOn The Airʼ.

We do have Fripp integrating with Hall and Gabriel far closer than one would expect from a solo Fripp album. In particular, ʽYou Burn Me Up I'm A Cigaretteʼ, the second track and first song-like song on the album, is the last thing we'd expect on that album — a glammified Fifties-style rocker with Jerry Lee Lewis-like piano and, seemingly intentionally, not a single original musical idea (except for a tiny bit of sonic weirdness in the mid-section). And ʽHere Comes The Floodʼ was not even co-written by Fripp — it is a straightahead Peter Gabriel original that had been released on his first album, in the form of a bombastic power ballad; here it is taken in a stripped-down piano demo form that I actually like more, but that still does not make it anything like a Fripp song (although he contributes some Frippertronics in the background).

Ultimately, Exposure is not so much about King Crimson or Robert Fripp as it is something of a «general musical landscape circa 1979 as observed through the eyes of a clever and slightly weird British gentleman». That landscape is definitely not free from the influence of a certain disbanded outfit that used to be known as King Crimson — for instance, the instrumental ʽBreathlessʼ is built on a riff that is itself just a slight variation on the ʽRedʼ riff — but against that landscape, that outfit is just one piece of rock out of many. Some are ridiculously old, like the rockabilly of ʽYou Burn Me Upʼ; some are antiquated-modernized, like ʽMaryʼ, a neo-folk tune co-written by Fripp and Hall and sung by Terry Roche in a startlingly Joni Mitchell-like manner; some are openly modernistic, like the title track, a slow funk groove with Krautrock-influenced synthe­sizers moaning and groaning in the background; and some point the way to the future, like the arpeggiated guitar intro to ʽI May Not Have Enoughʼ — which sounds like something straight out of any King Crimson album circa 1981-84.

I do not think there is any persistent theme to Exposure other than, well, «exposure» of all that pulsating musical life in 1979 — and Fripp does a great job pasting together all these elements (and did I mention ambient yet? I don't think I mentioned ambient, but there's plenty of it here, particularly towards the end, with stuff like ʽUrban Landscapeʼ and ʽWater Musicʼ). The album will never stand as a masterpiece in its own right, but it is a masterpiece of the art of previewing: nearly each single track acts like an excellent «sample» of a separate musical paradigm, and together, they celebrate musical diversity like no other record from the New Wave era that I know of — primarily because, for all their importance, most New Wave artists worked strictly within one specific paradigm.

On the level of individual songs or amazing technical bits, I have little to recommend: the record is very even, and for every track here, you can easily find something that's better in the same vein — it is useless to disentangle Exposure and decide which of its bits would work best on a repre­sentative Frippology collection. (Case in point: ʽNorth Starʼ is a nice ballad, lovingly sung by Hall, but it is rendered quite superfluous by the soon-to-come ʽMatte Kudasaiʼ in the same vein). Perhaps ʽBreathlessʼ is the one track here that would be most important to KC historians, as it really sounds like an attempt to re-do ʽRedʼ in a style that closely approaches Eighties' King Crimson — with electronically treated guitars and even more «angular» chord changes. But as an indivisible, multi-colored experience, let alone an experience that nobody expected from Fripp in 1979 and that can still take some Crimheads by surprise even today, Exposure is just a lot of fun from an epoch when making new music could still be a tremendously exciting and unpredictable kind of enterprise.


  1. You're not alone in thinking that "Breathless" would be of particular interest to King Crimson fans - it's been a regular feature of recent King Crimson shows. As far as I know, it's the only song from this album to get the full KC treatment.

  2. An inconsistent but very fun grab bag to be sure, but I'll always treasure this album for its rendition of 'Here Comes the Flood' - easily one of my favorite Peter Gabriel performances and miles better than the overblown original recording.