SAME MIRROR, DIFFERENT REFLECTIONS
Robert Fripp‘s Exposures is a 32-disc box set chronicling the guitarist’s official return to the music industry between 1977 and ‘83, primarily surrounding his first solo album Exposure, released in ‘79. The comprehensive nature of this set warranted splitting my review into multiple parts. If you haven’t read Part 1, which covers the set’s packaging and first six discs, you can find it here. This is highly recommended, as the collection is sequenced with intent.
And now, on to Part II …
Fripp saw fit to run Exposure through fits and changes as he put it together. Discs 7-9 walk us through those changes. Some changes were more subtle than others. Disc 7, Dubbed the Third Edition, is a 1983 remix undertaken by Fripp and Brad Davies. It was remastered in 2005 and was originally released as part of a two-disc edition of Exposure in ‘06.
The main album features the Daryl Hall vocals on “Disengage” (replacing Peter Hammill) and “NY3” (replacing the recorded argument Fripp lifted from his next door neighbors). Alternate versions of some of the tunes include the title track with vocals by Hall and Peter Gabriel (the latter released on Gabriel’s second album) and Hall’s vocals on “Mary” (replacing Terre Roche). Two tracks from Sacred Songs (“Urban Landscape” and “NYCNY”) are also added, along with an early mix of “Here Comes the Flood.”
The ‘83 mix isn’t bad, but doesn’t sound quite as spacious as the original edition. Everything seems to have moved a couple of paces forward, not allowing the listener as much room to breathe. Gabriel’s vocals on “Flood” seem to have benefitted the most from this treatment, as his voice is never more present.
The moments between the end of the album proper and bonus material raise a smile, as well. Exposure ends with the creak and slam of the door originally opened at the album’s beginning. Here, the door reopens and Hall’s take on the title track begins. While he and Gabriel both do more than serviceable jobs on this track, nothing will ever replace Roche’s take, complete with the primal screams only too appropriate for the song’s title and its gritty New York City origins.
Disc 8 is a remix of the original multi-track tapes undertaken by Steven Wilson. His remix work for King Crimson, Yes, XTC, and Jethro Tull, among others, objectively show that he has some of the best ears in music. By the time he finishes his work, every classic album he touches sounds like a practically new recording. In a few ways, the same thing can be said here.
Wilson’s mix adds both width and depth to the source material, leaving room for the subtleties (like the drumset’s ride cymbal) to come forward and adding a little thunder to the bass on tunes like “Breathless.” Fripp’s loops also get a little more room to run about, no longer relegated to the back of the mix. Yeah … this is the best mix of the album. The five bonus tracks give us alternate versions of “Chicago,” with Hall and Roche each getting a shot at the vocal. Hall also gets the voice for “NY3,” “Mary,” and the title track. Still killer stuff.
Wilson also handles mixing duties for Disc 9, the alternate version of the original album from ‘78. Embracing brevity, the album’s alternate title was Breathless or How I Gradually Internalised The Social Reality Of Manhattan Until It Seemed To Be A Very Reasonable Way Of Life. The album returns to the sequence planned for that abandoned original album. It should surprise no one that this mix is on point as well.
Fripp must be credited for pulling together a stellar cast of musicians to aid in Exposure’s recording. I’m addition to the vocalists, the album features drummers Phil Collins, Jerry Marotta, and Narada Michael Walden; bassist Tony Levin; keyboardists Barry Andrews and Brian Eno; Sid McGinnis on pedal steel guitar; Ian McDonald on flute; and Tim Capello on saxophone. It is a brilliant collection of heavyweight musicians giving their all to the music as though their lives depended upon it. This is an album that came together like the artist wanted.
DRIVING TOWARD ‘81
Even as Exposure was coming together, Fripp’s was working toward the next thing. Discs 10 and 11 sees us return to Frippertronics, which continued to be a driving force toward his objectives. Fripp referred to it as “The Drive to 1981.”
These particular performances were recorded live in The Kitchen, a venue in New York City, on May 2 of ‘78. Unlike prior loops, the playing here makes it clear that Frippertronics were more than mere background foundation. These loops have a sense of urgency. Providing atmosphere wasn’t enough. Fripp played leads — some of them quite heavy — over the loops he opened each piece with. The audience was fully onboard, if the long lines to see these performances can be gauged as one’s level of enthusiasm.
These loops are more raw and aggressive than the Soundscapes Fripp would perform and perfect in the 90’s. This makes sense, as the equipment used to make Soundscapes was infinitely more sophisticated than two Revox recorders. The modern sounds are much more orchestral and ethereal compared to what was happening in the 70’s. Still, it’s fascinating to hear the foundation of the modern day recordings, which show Fripp working from his heart in real time, letting the music go where it will.
That being said, the sound quality of these performances can be a little harsh at times. The music feels like it’s on the verge of clipping on more than one occasion. It’s easy to imagine the studio recording meters going deep into the red as these performances were tracked. It’s almost too aggressive. This may have to do with the fact that some of these recordings were originally recorded on cassette tapes from audience members. That’s just the way it goes. And the liner notes do make mention of it.
Fripp’s process continued to move forward, a process to be discussed in Part III.
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