Search This Blog

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Robert Fripp: God Save The Queen / Under Heavy Manners


1) Red Two Scorer; 2) God Save The Queen; 3) 1983; 4) Under Heavy Manners; 5) The Zero Of The Signified.

General verdict: Fripp's first attempt at a one-man show: limited in terms of scope, but successful in terms of vision.

The first half of this album has never been released on CD, which either means Fripp now regards it as a failure, or, more likely, he just regards «pure Frippertronics» as something that is better experienced in concert than in recorded format (very few of those experiments saw the light of day as LPs, and almost none did as CDs). The second half is available as part of a «Robert Fripp and The League Of Gentlemen» retrospective called God Save The King; and it does make sense since, after all, that second half is generally more accessible. But all in due course.

The album's constitution is actually quite interesting. Just as Exposure bridged the gap between the Bruford-Wetton era heavy rock Crimson and the Belew-Levin era New Wave Crimson, so do the two sides of this LP bridge the gap — or, rather, sit across the two sides of the gap, leisurely dangling their legs in the air — between the ambient sonic experiences in which Fripp indulged with Eno in the 1970s, and the neo-psychedelic sonic textures that Fripp and Belew would go on to explore in the following decade. At the same time, it is very much an anti-thesis to the «pop» format of Exposure — these here pieces have nothing to do with pop hooks and everything with the power of meticulously induced trance.

The concept of «Frippertronics» may sound gimmicky (a complex tape-loop delay system that makes you look like some freaky multi-handed musical juggler) as well as dated (with the advent of computers, any young idiot can engage in one's own version of Frippertronics as long as there's money to pay for the software) — but in the end, it all depends on the talents of the human being behind the tape manipulations. And just as the results achieved by Fripp and Eno on No Pussy­footing could succeed in linking your conscience to something cosmic, so do these tracks, recorded live at different venues in 1979, also succeed in creating their own phantasmagoric universe. Perhaps it's not genius, but it works.

Technically, the Frippertronic side is «wallpaper music»: unless you are a pothead or a New Age type of meditative person, focused mental burrowing inside those thirty minutes of interlocking guitar pulses is not so much not recommended as it is physically impossible. But when used as mere sonic background, these tracks go beyond experimentation for experimentation purposes and actually create a weird sonic environment; they would work great, in fact, as «music for installations» (I don't think the genre, popularized so much by Brian Eno, actually existed back in 1980), were they to accompany some particularly outlandish visual artistry.

There is even a subtle and clever mood twist midway through. The first two tracks are friendly and soothing in terms of guitar tones and selected chords — the loops are like warm summer breezes and lazily fluttering butterflies. (Never mind the ʽGod Save The Queenʼ title: although the track was inspired by an audience member's request to do a tribute to Jimi's ʽStar Spangled Bannerʼ and it does borrow the opening notes of the anthem, most of it has nothing to do with the pride of Britannia, except, of course, that the pride of Britannia is playing the track). The third track, ʽ1983ʼ, introduces a darker strain, with more distortion and heaviness to the base riffs and more frenzied larks-tongues chaos to the «lead» licks — it is as if the relative calm and serenity of the world of Frippertronics were shattered midway through, giving way to something more ominous and apocalyptic and closer to the man's musical vision of 1973-74.

In other words, it is all translatable into the language of mental visions, and that is enough for me. Would those be even better, sharper, clearer visions if the tracks had been recorded «properly», with regular overdubbing instead of the gimmicky self-replicating technique? Perhaps. But the thing about gimmicks is that they are inherently risk-based entities: a gimmick that does not work is doubly irritating, whereas one that does work might be twice as amazing — I mean, all these impressive soundscapes were created live? in one sitting? with minimal studio post-processing? like, no shit!...

That said, I can perfectly understand why Robert eventually relegated the Frippertronic side to the dustbin of history, while choosing to preserve the second, «Discotronic» side for posterity. Also based on the Frippertronic paradigm, these other two tracks add dance grooves to the mix — funky, almost disco-ish grooves that turn the sonic paintings into club-ready workouts; in addi­tion, ʽUnder Heavy Mannersʼ also features dramatically spoken, though lyrically nonsensical, overdubs by David Byrne himself — performed in classic Talking Heads style. If you ever wondered how an early Eighties' King Crimson incarnation with Byrne instead of Belew on vocals might have sounded, this is the place to turn to (hint: it would have sounded very much the same, but then again, Belew was chosen by Fripp because of his Talking Heads connection).

With the toe-tapping element thrown in, these tracks certainly become more fun — although, Byrne or no Byrne, it is not ʽUnder Heavy Mannersʼ but ʽThe Zero Of The Signifiedʼ that is the real shit here, an absolutely ferocious groove for the first seven minutes of its duration, as long as Fripp is pumping out the never-breaking thread of the speedy arpeggiated riff and the rhythm section of Michael ʽBusta Cherryʼ Jones and Paul Duskin is laying down the dance groove and the regular electric pulses of Frippertronics are flashing in the background. Eventually, it all dies down and only the faint echoes of Frippertronics remain, too happy with themselves to go away before they begin to try your patience, but as long as the whole virtual band is in full flight, ʽZero Of The Signifiedʼ cooks — and cooks in an entirely new type of way, paving the road to the brand new look King Crimson to come.

It might be strange of me to say that I actually prefer this kind of approach to the improvised style of 1973-74 live King Crimson (with a few exceptions) — but the more I think about it, the more I conclude that a big problem with that period was that the band did not always gel well. I might even have held a higher opinion of something like ʽFractureʼ, I think, if it was just Fripp playing that guitar melody, without the others clunking it up. A solo album like God Save The Queen, on the other hand, is completely dominated by one man's vision, so that nothing comes into conflict with the general scheme of things as envisaged by the creator. It certainly puts a lot of limitations on the final product — limitations that would eventually be overcome by the perfect construction of Eighties' King Crimson — but I guess I could live with that.


  1. Inspired by your review, I rushed to play this again. I'm pleased to report that the (holiday embiggened) household is now in full revolt. And we haven't even got to Under Heavy Manners yet! Thanks for the inspiration GS, great review on a too-often ignored release.

  2. I saw one of Fripp's Frippertronic shows back in 1983 at a small auditorium in my university's student union and it was a pretty entertaining evening. It was dubbed "A Lecture and Demonstration of Frippertronics." As far as my aging brain can recall the evening started with Fripp creating soundscapes like those on the first side of this album. This was followed by him talking about stuff and taking questions from the audience. Despite his reputation as a humorless jerk he was quite witty and charming (once when talking about Brian Eno he even made a funny and affectionate impression of Eno's mother). After this he played guitar solos over recording of the soundscapes he made earlier. You're right, one really needs the experience this stuff live. The sound completely envelopes you and you can feel the rumbling of the low tones in your gut. Even so, it's a shame he never released any recording of him playing guitar over the soundscapes.

  3. This shouldn’t be thought of as a single album. It is intentionally arranged as two albums, with different titles, each a single side long.

  4. You are teasing us George. JUST GET TO THE BELEW YEARS ALREADY.

  5. Well, I'm sure he's going to review Fripp's new wave jam band The League of Gentlemen's one and only album. There is another album of just Frippertronics but it isn't all that different from the first side of this record so reviewing it would be kind of redundant.