Last week I picked up a near-mint LP copy of the original mix of Robert Fripp’s 1979 album, Exposure. I find listening to the album, whose main themes orbit suffering, a fascinating experience. Fripp (who is best known for fronting King Crimson) thought of the album as a third in a triology including the albums he produced for Peter Gabriel (2 = “Scratch” ) and for Daryl Hall (Sacred Songs, recorded 1977 but only released in 1980), who both appear on this album as well (along with other guests including Phil Collins on drums and Brian Eno on synths).
The record is, tongue in cheek, Fripp’s most “commercial” offering and it begins with his comments to that effect. Just to show how “commercial” it was, Daryl Hall’s management and record label (RCA) refused to allow Hall’s voice to appear on several songs (in part) for fear of Exposure‘s lack of commercial appeal (on which see the Allmusic article here). I should say that a Fripp-infused Daryl Hall is a Daryl Hall I can listen too, and I’ll be looking for that Fripp-produced album this week.
Several things stand out from my repeated exposures to Fripp’s album in the past few days. The main thing is the way in which the entire album is united by theme, namely exposure to suffering. Interspersed throughout the album’s lyrics or spoken samples are either painful expressions of the inevitability of human suffering (as in Buddhism) or dire warnings of more suffering to come (as in the apocalypse of ancient Judaism or Christianity). This is done in an intriguing way both lyrically and musically.
There’s “You burn me up, I’m a cigarette” with a very down-to-earth expression of suffering in terms of relationships, “Exposure” with its terrifying screams, and Gabriel’s “Here comes the flood” with its apocalyptic warnings of the coming end (on flood imagery and ancient apocalypticism, go here; on Dylan’s use of similar flood imagery, go here). Spoken samples are also built into the songs, as when a scientist speaks of the coming of catastrophic floods in the near future and when someone (a follower of the Buddha?) speaks of the inevitability of suffering, at least in this world.
Perhaps most astounding is the way in which the music itself takes you on a roller-coaster ride that involves the listener in suffering and relief from suffering. The album runs the gamut of genres, from experimental new wave and heavy-metal to soothing ballads and ambient music (reminiscent of Fripp’s ambient work with Brian Eno — I’ll have to post on that soon, since I also managed to find a copy of the LP No Pussyfooting). Quite often, you are moved from harsh and jarring sounds in one track, to a soothing aural experience in the next. The heavy-metal style vocals of Peter Hammil are juxtaposed with the soothing R&B voice of Daryl Hall or the gentle (Joni-Mitchell like) vocals of Terre Roche on some tracks. Yet Roche’s screams of “exposure” found on the title track are both impossible to listen to and impossible to abandon, despite the torture. And one could not ask for a more calm and emotive performance of Peter Gabriel’s “Here comes the flood”, which is stripped of the somewhat over-produced sounds on Gabriel’s debut album and replaced with Gabriel and his piano along with the subtle guitar loops of Frippertronics. Also interspersed throughout are ambient songs which likewise use the Frippertronics tape-loop experimentation begun on Fripp and Eno’s No Pussyfooting.
This is one form of suffering I would recommend.
UPDATE: It seems that the vocal samples involving a scientist’s predictions of the coming flood and the quotation regarding the inevitability of suffering are both by John G. Bennett, a British scientist who combined his scientific views with Eastern religious ideas. Interesting combination. He started up his own school to teach such things.