Graded on a Curve: Robert Fripp,
Exposure

What a great album! The songs are brilliant! The entire cast of musicians, which include Daryll Hall, Tony Levin, and Terri Roche defy the laws of talent! Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins also make guest appearances! And Mary Lou Green does hair! And does a bang-up job of it I’m sure!

On 1979’s Exposure—the first of his four solo albums—Robert Fripp condescends to the conventional, or as close as the dyed-in-the-wool avant gardist would get to making an album for progressive rock haters. Fripp has spent his long and illustrious career on the experimental end of the rock party; he co-founded and played guitar for King Crimson on all thirteen of the albums they released between 1969 and 2003.

He also kept himself busy during those years by recording two LPs with Giles, Giles & Fripp, two with the League of Gentleman, and collaborating with the likes of Brian Eno and David Sylvian. He also fell in with the crowd attracted to the work of Russian spiritualist George Gurdjieff and went off to a ten-month course at Gloucestershire, where he achieved so much deep spiritual wisdom he would later say, “I was pretty suicidal.” I’m thinking of signing up myself.

On Exposure Fripp enlisted the usual array of prog-rock musicians, including Brian Eno, Tony Levin, Peter Gabriel, and Peter Hammill of Van der Graaf Generator fame. But his real genius lay in enlisting Hall and Oates’ Daryl Hall in the project. Hall was not as surprising a choice as, say, John Denver, but many wondered why Fripp engaged a top notch pop songwriter and blue-eyed soul singer to participate in a project that—with the noticeable exception of “North Star”—made so little of Hall’s perceived musical strengths.

I remember experiencing that “what the?” feeling the first time I heard Hall on “You Burn Me Up I’m a Cigarette.” The title is great, Fripp plays furious guitar, but what makes the song are Hall’s frenetic vocals—he’s burning up all right. He’s equally ferocious on “Disengage,” although Peter Hamill’s raging in there as well. Hall’s the Hall we know and love on the bluesy “North Star, hitting all those sweet notes that so many miss because they’re too busy hating “One on One.”

But the Philly street corner soul goes out the window on “Chicago,” with Jerry Marotta’s monster drums and Fripp’s Frippertronics. This is Doctor Hall turned Mister Hyde; he doesn’t sing so much as growl, and I’m pretty sure the rich girls didn’t like it. Hall also co-wrote the quite pretty pop folk song “Mary,” which features Terre Roche of the Roches on vocals.

And speaking of Roche, she puts in a bravura performance on the ominous robo-groove of “Exposure.” She sings the song’s title over and over, warbling, hitting those high-altitude notes and drawing them out to impossibly long screams while Gurdjieff adept and author J.G. Bennett jumps in now and then saying “It is impossible to achieve the aim without suffering,” (just ask Fripp).

She also joins Peter Hammill on “I May Not Have Had Enough of Me but I’ve Had Enough of You,” a hard-edged fusion number heavy on the Frippertronics and a guitar with anger issues. “Water Music I” is an atmospheric drone over a Bennett monologue portending our inevitable ecological doom. “Water Music 1″ segues quite appropriately into Peter Gabriel’s majestic and quite moving “Here Comes the Flood,” on which Gabriel and his trusty piano are joined only by Eno’s synthesizer.

The lyrics may be cryptic but he means every one of them, and the chorus is as sublime as any I’ve ever heard, what with it’s closing words, “Drink up, dreamers, you’re running dry.” What befuddles me is why Gabriel put this solo classic on somebody else’s album—he was paying off a gambling debt for all I know.

The instrumental drone, “Water Music II” is all atmospheric Frippertronics; on “Urban Landscape he takes you from the gentle sound of water to be found on your Calm app to a long and unfriendly drone to a frenetic rocker featuring an unrecognizable Hall and a Roche who can’t decide whether she wants to play nice or give your ears a good thrashing. The wonderfully titled “First Inaugural Address to the I.A.C.E. Sherborne House” is a seven-second fuzz and silent salute to the place that nearly drove Fripp to suicide by, if the rumors are true, Great Kat solo.

On “NY3″ Fripp fuses jazz fusion with hard rock, giving organist Barry Andrews the limelight and somebody else the opportunity to play both parts in a mini-play between mother, father, and daughter. All three take turns shouting “This is my house!” before things get really ugly and mom calls dad a “cocaine sniffer,” then adds “Don’t call me a slut.” George Bernard Shaw this isn’t. J.G. Bennett introduces the herky-jerky metal number “Hååden Two,” which features spoken interjections by a variety of unnamed voices (one of which I suspect is one Mrs. Emily Harris) and polite laughter before the song ends with a very British “Oh dear dear.”

Exposure is a high-spirited labor of love by an odd but convivial cast of players committed to tempering their avant garde sensibilities just enough to produce what could pass as a traditional rock album. Some would call Exposure a progressive rock album but that’s impossible because I hate progressive rock albums. Truth is, it’s impossible to categorize Exposure; I’ve heard it described as New Wave, which offends me ever more that calling it progressive rock.

What I would call it is a warped metal album recorded by extraterrestrials whose only transmissions from Earth were scrambled versions of The Dark Side of the Moon, Here Come the Warm Jets and Black Oak Arkansas. They especially loved Black Oak Arkansas.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text