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“Exposure”

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Robert Fripp’s 1979 album Exposure was the first record the guitarist released after he disbanded the initial version of King Crimson, those seminal art rockers, in the mid 1970s. It’s a very, very interesting album, which finds Fripp both looking forward and reflecting on his past accomplishments.

It also showcases the caliber of musicians Fripp has constantly surrounded himself: Darryl Hall (of Hall & Oates) is a vocalist on two of the songs, Terre Roche of the Roches sings on a couple of other songs, and Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno make appearances as well. The backing musicians include Phil Collins on drums (1979 was a few years before his career as a singer would make him a superstar); Tony Levin, the master session bassist (who would later join a revamped version of King Crimson a few years later); and Sid McGuiness, who would later be David Letterman’s house guitarist. That’s not too shabby a crowd to be part of!

In the mid-1970s, Brian Eno had introduced Fripp to the concept of tape looping, a forerunner to today’s electronic sampling. Fripp uses loops in two ways on this album: first, as part of his famous “Frippertronics” technique of layering guitar parts, which gives his Gibson Les Paul Custom an almost synthesizer-like tone. On “Water Music”, which bookends Gabriel’s beautiful tune, “Here Comes The Flood”, Frippertronics are particularly evident, creating a haunting introduction and coda.

Throughout the album, Fripp also uses tape loops of “music concrete”: found sounds, and snippets of dialogue to overlay on top of his playing, which is employed on alternately harsh, abrasive hard rocking tracks, and beautiful, majestic ballads. Roche’s singing on the gorgeous “Mary” helps transform the simple, short song into something very pretty. And the equally pretty “North Star”, sung by Hall, sounds very much like a dry run for “Matte Kudasai” from Discipline, the first album by King Crimson in their early 1980s lineup.

Hall was apparently going to sing throughout Exposure, but his management had other plans–they apparently felt Fripp’s avant-rock was too far removed from Hall’s radio-friendly pop recordings with John Oates, and would harm his image. Fortunately, Fripp was able to convince Hall’s management to allow the singer to appear on two tracks on the album–“North Star”, and the humorously titled “You Burn Me Up, I’m A Cigarette”, which, with its chugging guitar and boogie piano, isn’t far removed from Chuck Berry (aside from its arch lyrics). Also looking back is “Breathless”, an instrumental which sounds like an outtake from King Crimson’s epochal 1974 album Red.

Fripp has said one of his goals with Exposure was “to investigate the ‘pop song’ as a means of expression. I think it’s an incredibly good way of putting forward ideas. I think it’s a supreme discipline to know that you have three- to four minutes to get together all your lost emotions and find words of one syllable or less to put forward all you ideas. It’s a discipline of form that I don’t think is cheap or shoddy.”

Exposure is an often overlooked album from the late 1970s, and well worth checking out, just to see how flexible a form the rock and roll song (not to mention the electric guitar itself) can be.

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About Ed Driscoll

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    my vinyl copy of Exposure has the words “1979 is the year of the Fripp” written in the runoff area.

    i guess they used to get bored at the record manufacturing plant.

  • http://masshole.blogspot.com Dave

    It must be a collector’s item, then.
    Most copies say “1981 is the year of the Fripp”. ;-)

  • Scott

    Ed,

    You forgot to mention the contribution of Peter Hamill’s vocals on “Disengage” and “Chicago” which are great as well.

    BTW, If you own the LP version and the CD version, the mixes on each are different, and even the first pressing of the LP is different than the subsequent LP re-issues and the CD version of the album.

    Different takes of some of the songs were used for the LP releases and the later CD release as well as remixing of some tracks.

    With that said, this is an excellent album and I agree with your comments here.

    In fact, Peter Gabriel has said on many occasions that his favorite version of ‘Here Comes the Flood” was the version which is included on “Exposure”, since he felt the orchestration which Bob Ezrin employed in the song on his first album was too much.

    He wrote the song orginally the way it was performed on “Exposure” and he let Fripp use it.

    He also re-recorded a stripped down version of the song with just him and the piano for his “Shaking the Tree- Sixteen Golden Greats” hits album released in 1990.

    Scott

  • http://www.eddriscoll.com/weblog.html Ed Driscoll

    Scott,

    I didn’t “forget” to mention Hamill–I was just trying to keep the article under 500 words, punch up the well known names that Fripp was able to pull in to play on the album, and write and upload the thing in an hour or so late last night. I figured that people who wanted to know more could follow the links and get the complete line-up of musicians.

    Curiously though, the first time I heard the album (on headphones, a few weeks ago, playing the CD on my laptop as I was flying back to San Jose from New York), I assumed the tracks with Hamill on them were simply Darryl Hall going insane!

    Which means to me at least, that Hamill was a good choice to replace Hall on the tracks that Hall’s management put the kibosh on.

    Ed

  • http://www.unproductivity.com Tom Johnson

    Ed: just curious, why under 500? I say, let loose – I live to read the extensive stuff on Blogcritics.

    The different versions of the song “Exposure” are also interesting – there’s the version on the album, then another on Peter Gabriel’s second self-titled album, and finally the version recorded on Fripp’s tour with David Sylvian, Damage (which has finally been reissued recently but with an entirely and drastically different mix.) Fripp’s one of the most fascinating musicians I’ve ever come across. As infuriatating as his philosophising can get, he always makes up for it with quality work.

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    also worth checking out is Daryl Hall’s Sacred Songs, produced by Fripp.

  • http://www.eddriscoll.com/weblog.html Ed Driscoll

    Tom,

    It wasn’t so much the length, it was the time–I wrote this very late at night, because I had wanted to get something on the site, but I was afraid if I ran too long, I wouldn’t be able to edit and proof it properly before I punted out.

    And unlike the other artists, I don’t know anything about Hammill, which doesn’t help matters.

    Ed

  • Bob

    Which tracks do Phil Collins appear on?

  • http://www.eddriscoll.com/weblog.html Ed Driscoll

    Bob,

    According to this Webpage, Collins played on the shimmering ballad, “North Star”, one of the real highlights of the album.

    Ed

  • John

    re Pete Hammill: where is a good place to start? What are his best works?

  • http://www.geocities.com/toomuchmikeforyou Mike Bowers

    This album, “Exposure”, is among my favorites. I was looking for the lyrics to some of its songs when I found this page. I really enjoyed Ed’s post, and now feel validated in liking the album as well as I do. I am a fool for King Crimson in all of their incarnations. When I’d acquired all of the King Crimson albums and still didn’t have enough, I started in on the side projects of the individual members. This is how I discovered “Exposure”.

    I suggest to those of you who enjoy this album that you also try Bill Brufords, “Feels Good To Me”. Avoid his “Tornado” however, it is really bad news.

    Also, Fripp worked with Andy Summers (Police) on an album called “I Advance Unmasked”. This is another neat album, but it has a more homogenous sound. (There are only the two guitarists on the album.)

    Tom mentioned that Fripp’s philosophizing can be infuriating… How so…? I’ve never heard any of his views on anything. Where can I find them? I am a conservative/libertarian type. He’s not a rotten socialist is he? ; )

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    tom may be talking about Fripp’s views on live concert photography.

    clearly, Fripp has too many brains in his little head. i listened to a web interview with him and it was fairly clear the man’s a genius…but so serious.

    and, for god’s sake, don’t take his picture at a concert.