Review by Charles Caloia
Assigned by Roland Bruynesteyn
Every time King Crimson dissolved, Robert Fripp, our ever-astute guitar hero/studio whiz, at least knew where to fall back to. After Red, Fripp was done with blazing through the land of schizoid men, larks, and fallen angels. Now he was sucked through that starless sky into the semi-mainstream of the mid-70’s: catchy for radio, experimental for new wave, but not too much of either. Even with Frippertronics, Robert still tempered his ambitions so everything was more than just processed tape loops.
In between Blondie, Bowie, Byrne, and Brian (Eno), Fripp was that certain technician to perfectly complement a performer who needed that edge. Without his treatments, “Heroes” would probably be a straighter homage to German cabaret. Eno would have to busk while endlessly resampling Phil Manzanera’s guitar. David Byrne would be fighting Stevie Ray Vaughan for the title of best blues guitarist with endless takes on “Take Me To The River”! (I may be wrong about all that, but wouldn’t Let’s Dance kick more ass with Byrne producing and playing some solos?) Sure, it helped to have him, but how could he represent himself after leaving the Crimson King’s court behind?
Fripp’s Exposure lends that crucial insight. Here, like much of his post-Red/pre-Discipline KC work, Fripp acts as a civil engineer: constructing soundscapes around what his singer/songwriter-sideshow brings together. Be it Daryl Hall’s nutty boogie (“You Burn Me Up, I’m A Cigarette”), Peter Hammill’s maniacal wailing (“Disengage”), or Terre Roche’s shrieks (the title track), Exposure marks the transition from bearded, eccentric hermit to tailor-made session man: ready (suit, scowl, and all) to be your molecular gastronomist (of sound).
Much of the album’s packed with abrasive songs and instrumentals, though none of it’s more eccentric than, say, Henry Cow or Van der Graaf Generator. It’s Fripp using his unique approach to the circle of fifths for his riffs (maybe that was Brian Eno calling out that “incredibly dismal, pathetic chord sequence” on “Hååden Two”. Maybe they didn’t get along so well after all.), as he did prior but now with less fuzz.
Past the semi-jazz-fusion and semi-hard-rock (even semi-blues-croon with “Chicago”), the album’s best moments are its softest. Fripp’s then-lady friend and lyricist Joanna Walton contributes some solid poetry to Daryl Hall’s “North Star” and the Terre Roche-sung “Mary”. Not the most memorable songs, but they have some very touching deliveries. Peter Gabriel’s “Here Comes The Flood” originally fell short due to Bob Ezrin’s overproduction, adding unnecessary gospel cheese on top of an already minimal, tender ballad. Here, however, it remains as is: better raw and only with some processed guitar (bookended by both parts of “Water Music”).
Exposure makes for a hell of a demo reel. Here’s Robert Fripp playing with some of New Wave’s best and brightest (and Daryl Hall!) and a crapload of session players cobbled from Peter Gabriel’s band and more. It shows that the guy who started with apocalyptic jazz noodlings has grown up quite a bit, more content with new age soundscapes possibly inspired by watching Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris at 3 in the morning. He’s still kooky with his textures, so expect some daring inventions with jazz fusion players, tapes of J.G. Bennett lectures, and Peter Hammill having a breakdown. Altogether adventurous, bold, and incredible. Just get past some inane academia to arrive at Discipline few years later.