Rolling Stone AUGUST 23, 1979 - by Michael Bloom



Robert Fripp: Exposure

After King Crimson dissolved in 1974, Robert Fripp, the band's guitarist, composer and mentor, retired from music for a while to study and think. When he returned,he had an entirely different perspective: a bundle of concepts acquired from Brian Eno, including a system called Frippertronics that allowed him to perform without a band. Fripp eschewed the exact, angular, polytonal, mercurial guitar metallics of King Crimson for a more amorphous and abstract process music. Then he began to collaborate with the likes of Daryl Hall, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel and even Blondie. Seemingly, he'd become the avant-garde's ambassador to musicians who may have wanted to experiment but couldn't afford to, either because it wasn't commercial or because they lacked the necessary chops. (Bowie did explore as far as he wanted, but Eno was the prime mover in his case.)

Exposure, Fripp's first new album in five years and first ever under his own name, is brimming with good ideas and experimental intentions. Regrettably,all the cleverness boils away, and the music seems slapdash and thin - more like a session player's first tentative record than the work of a ten-year-plus veteran of demanding progressive music. The disappointment is all the keener for the elusiveness of Exposure's shortcomings, and the considerable respect this reviewer holds for the artist.

Doubtless, the best material is the instrumentals. Breathless is a massive chord-crusher bred right out of King Crimson's Red, with an elegantly twisted middle theme performed on "sky saw" guitar (an awesomely hollow sound discovered by Eno). The Frippertronic tracks, Urban Landscape and the Water Music pieces, are completely opposite in mood: calm, contemplative music whose structure is wholly integrated into its content because of the recording process: a long, cumulative tape delay. The Fripp and Eno LPs, produced entirely with this system, clearly demonstrate the compelling organic harmonics this technique creates.

Nothing else sounds as well realised. Several cuts boast King Crimson-inspired guitaristics, tarted up here and there with more conventional licks (for example, the altered twelve-bar blues in Chicago). On others, Fripp plays a bland variety of studio swing, as in the syrupy waltz, North Star. In a spoken text at the beginning of the album (Exposure is liberally strewn with such asides), the artist describes these tunes as being potentially "more commercial," but it's probably unlikely that a mass audience could really warm up to them - they're still too rhythmically unstable, harsh of timbre and quirky.

Moreover, Fripp wrote no melodies. Instead, he handed his vocalists (Daryl Hall, Peter Hammill, Terre Roche, Peter Gabriel) the lyric sheet, played the backing track and asked them to improvise tunes on the spot. This is Exposure's most avant-garde idea, and it has its successes: the genuine tenderness in Roche's Mary and Hammill's furious realisation of Disengage might never have happened in conventional sessions. But the sort of catchy, hummable, hook-laden melodies necessary for airplay have been excluded.

It seems the Eno influence here has been turned exactly backward. When Eno works with indeterminacy, he incorporates it into his creative procedure. He'll enter the studio with no fixed ideas and concoct a tape of unpredictable sounds. Then he'll react to it with other sounds, not quite so random. Eventually, the accumulation of his reactions forms the piece: his aesthetic intent evolves out of the totality of his choices. Fripp, on the other hand, begins with full intention - a guitar part, a lyric, a composed backing track - and dissipates it in the unpredictability of first-take recordings, spontaneous vocalising, the use of session players and a thick, opaque production. Thus, he sounds like a sideman on his own album.

Finally, Exposure's speeches constitute a riddle. Many discuss Fripp's music and his New York surroundings or are excerpts from the words of J.G. Bennett, the artist's teacher during his retreat. Ostensibly, these speeches reflect Robert Fripp's present thinking. But the last text declares everything "a big hoax." Is Fripp really exposed?