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.