In the last half of a seven-year hiatus between King Crimsons from the late ’70s to the mid-’80s, Robert Fripp — self-styled thinking-man’s musician and guitarist’s guitarist — played axeman/producer to the stars (David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Blondie, Talking Heads, Brian Eno, Hall and Oates, the Roches) and cut a series of solo LPs reflecting his then-current obsessions.
The loosely autobiographical Exposure is the closest Fripp has come to a pop effort, with guest vocals by Gabriel, Daryl Hall, Peter Hammill and Terre Roche. Interlarded with tape-loop guitar episodes and enigmatic spoken-word communiqués from several sources, the record manages to overcome the self-referential preciousness inherent in such an enterprise — but just barely.
Under Heavy Manners/God Save the Queen offers two concepts for the price of one; both, unfortunately, are flops. The first half gets “Frippertronics” off to a bad start with a suite of samey, lackluster performances. It was Eno who showed Fripp this two-tape-recorder strategy that allows accumulation of rich textures. In performance, Fripp would build towering edifices of looped guitar sound and then spin stunning lead solos over them. The loops remained on tape; the solos didn’t, thus the best parts of the concerts that produced God Save the Queen never made it onto the record. Under Heavy Manners, Fripp’s first stab at “discotronics” (his version of dance-oriented rock) sounds less austere than impoverished, despite a memorable David Byrne vocal.
The next pair of LPs, continuing Fripp’s self-appointed “Drive to 1981,” gamely picked up the pieces. Let the Power Fall continues the Frippertronics methodology of God Save the Queen; although both were recorded during the same 1979 tour, this album’s loops provide a far greater wealth of sounds, moods and ideas — Fripp’s editing skills evidently having improved with time. However, several bootlegs documenting Frippertronics with the leads intact remain definitive, as much as Fripp may detest them.
Harnessing himself and keyboardist Barry Andrews (ex-XTC) to an adequate rhythm section (that included future Gang of Four bassist Sara Lee), Fripp created the one-shot League of Gentlemen band/tour/LP and firmly claimed his dance-rock territory. A typical League cut took a simple medium-to-fast backbeat over which Fripp and Andrews locked horns, with melodic development emerging slowly, surely, subtly. On the 1980 tour, Fripp played marvelous leads; on the LP (whose cover art is, oddly enough, by Danielle Dax), they are replaced by spoken-word in-jokes. God Save the King is a revised, remixed, remastered single-disc distillation of Under Heavy Manners/God Save the Queen and The League of Gentlemen albums.
In the mid-’80s, Fripp founded a guitar school in West Virginia and set about teaching the instrument to disciples in most extraordinary fashion. The all-acoustic League of Crafty Guitarists (his students) album, conceived as an educational challenge and recorded in concert at George Washington University, features seventeen diligent pupils performing pastoral Fripp instrumentals with delicacy and quiet appeal. (The LP does contain one lengthy and alluring Frippertronics piece for good electric measure.) Without the master on hand, some of Fripp’s students also recorded New Music for Acoustic Guitar Ensemble, issued on cassette around ’89.
Another school project provided the basis for The Lady or the Tiger, wherein Fripp’s missus, singer/actress Toyah Willcox (who has an extensive record catalogue of her own, beginning in the late ’70s), recites Frank R. Stockton’s 1882 story (and its sequel, The Discourager of Hesitancy) over a mild bed of inconspicuous guitar textures composed by Fripp and performed with the League of Crafty Guitarists.
Sunday All Over the World is a short-lived Fripp-led rock band.