Robert Fripp

by Keith Purtell

Robert Fripp

Robert Fripp

I wonder if this guy’s other fans are as perplexed with him as I am. Innovative guitarist and bandleader Robert Fripp’s career has gone in unexpected directions at each turn. He formed the progressive rock band King Crimson. Their astonishing first album, “Court of the Crimson King,” was aptly described in the “All Music Guide” as the “dark side of art rock.” Fripp’s dangerous, howling guitar solo on the appropriately-titled “21st Century Schizoid Man” comes to a jarring halt as the song segues into a moody piece of Ian McDonald/Peter Sinfield pensiveness called “I Talk To The Wind.” The song “Moonchild” doesn’t fit any existing musical category. Featuring a array of weirdly powerful melodic fragments, it’s unearthly and fluid. “Court of Crimson King” was just the right combination of timbres and textures for its faux-Renaissance, anti-industrial themes.

We heard Fripp’s explosive prowess again on “Starless and Bible Black” and “Exposure,” though briefly, since he doesn’t really believe in playing that much traditional lead guitar. During the past 20 years, Fripp has retreated into some kind of Philip Glass minimalism; a repetitive monotone that is mostly theme and variations. It sometimes resembles the quasi-mathematical exploration of J.S. Bach, but without the emotional depth. As bandleader, the situation is no one’s fault but Fripp’s. I don’t understand why he doesn’t seem to realize that his best work is in collaboration with artists whose strengths counterbalance his weaknesses. Being a Fripp fan now means sifting through recent releases for flashes of brilliance.

Fripp seems to be one of those artists who is too damned serious for his own good. He reportedly deems his most successful concepts “mainstream.” Talk about bloody minded.

Fripp’s best independent effort is probably “Exposure,” although in many ways it is atypical of the body of his recordings. With guest appearances by Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Daryl Hall and Brian Eno, it returns to the multi-talent lineup that always brings out Fripp’s best. “Exposure” features a wide variety of material, and the shift from one track to the next can be startling. The first five tracks, for instance:

“Preface” is a voice recording, part of which purports to be Fripp pitching some new “commercial” ideas to a record company (a hilarous proposition, if you know anything at all about Fripp’s attitude toward record companies).

“You Burn Me Up I’m A Cigarette” is either a caricature of straight rock or a serving of sonic textures.

“Breathless” is a tension-filled instrumental where fugue-like escalation reaches a stable emotional plateau with the addition of keyboards.

“Disengage” ups the ante just a bit with an aggressive vocal track and a spiderlike, stalking rhythm track.

“North Star” is a sweetly introspective relationship song.

Fripp’s deft touch with arrangement is apparent in the dynamic range of instrumentation. The remainder of the CD is just as interesting, with an almost mystical conclusion. There are more clips than usual here, because of the variety of Fripp’s work.

Robert Fripp samples:

Suggested listening: With King Crimson; “Court of the Crimson King,” “Starless and Bible Black,” “Red,” “Lizard,” and “B’Boom.” Under his own name; "Exposure” and “The Bridge Between.”

Explore Fripp’s music at (new window).