Review: Robert Fripp's Exposures, DGM 2022

There’s nothing that exemplifies the epic and excess of the progressive era than the Box Set. Perhaps it began with a tradition first laid down by Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer with their opulent triple-live albums in 1973; but the multi-disc box set is also the logical conclusion of the CD reissue era. In the late 80s and early 90s it delivered the album on silver disc: no frills, not even that many words, just a shiny silver disc without crackles or pops. A decade later the same was reissued, but with “remastered” sound, liner notes and bonus tracks; a further decade later, it tended to be “remixed”. Nowadays, it's the career-spanning box set - a fourth attempt at selling the same record again, but this time with everything: the albums, the outtakes, the remixes, the essays, the pictures, the fancy box, the works.

Robert Fripp’s Exposures is the first box set featuring the guitarist’s solo output, his "return to music" following the 70s King Crimson and sabbatical, affectionately referred to as The Drive to 1981. Based in New York and unburdened by his past, Fripp became record producer, guest guitarist and solo artist. He released four albums, three under his own name, Exposure, God Save The Queen/Under Heavy Manners and Let The Power fall, and a third under the band name The League Of Gentlemen. Following this period of activity, Fripp reactivated King Crimson with the stunningly fresh and original re-debut of Discipline in September 1981.

Exposure, released on Polydor in 1979, was a solo album in the true sense, with a bevy of guests: singers include Daryl Hall, Peter Hammill, Peter Gabriel and Terry Roche; drummers include Phil Collins, Jerry Marotta and Narada Michael Walden; and of course, the ever-present Tony Levin on bass. There are no less than five different versions of this album on the disc; the original, the third edition (2006 release), the fourth edition (Steven Wilson 2021 remix), an unreleased pre-release from 1978 and a further remix of that by Steven Wilson. Only missing in the box is a further remix from 1985 released on E.G. Records. That’s a lot of Exposure!

The box also contains a further ten CDs and two Blu-Rays of Frippertronics, the guitarist’s tape-loop method of music creation first revealed on the 1973 Fripp and Eno album, No Pussyfooting; a further three CDs of Discotronics and Eurotronics (Frippertronics with a beat), four discs with The League of Gentlemen, two discs of "Blasts & Blasms" (sessions, jams and rehearsals that led to Exposure) plus High-Res, Quad, DTS, Dolby Atmos of the albums… 32 discs over all. That's a lot of Frippery! There’s even the requisite "ephemeralia" from the era, reproduction bios, tickets, photos, posters, massive booklet complete with essays from King Crimson biographer Sid Smith, compiler Declan Colgan and Fripp’s own diary from 1980. There’s even a tiny ½” x ½” white paper square, mine with “Q4” written on it, probably a quality control check.

First, it does not completely replace that which you may already own, including the 1985 “second” version of Exposure (E.G. Records) and the “indiscretions” (snippets of spoken word, etc) found on the original 1981 tLoG album. Second, it offers a lot of Frippertronics. Some 68 hours worth, IIRC. Much like his Soundscapes that succeeded them in the 90s to present, a little goes a long way to get the point. Third, you can hear about every “song” from Exposure with a different vocalist or take. Fourth, there are some absolute gems within, and like every gem the work in finding them makes them even more valuable, e.g. Music On Hold (Jam). Fifth, tLoG are more than deserving a reappraisal. Just listen to "Christian Children Marching, Singing".

Finally, there is no point to actually talk about the music within. If you didn’t live through it upon release or subsequently purchased it since then, why are you even here? This is not a starter set! Save your money, and get the original four albums. Each, in their own way, are wonderful, unique, historic and part of the greater Robert Fripp story. All of which begs the point: why are you here with the Exposures box set? Well, it’s what we prog fans do. We eat this up all "thirty-two disc" day long. Every take, every concert, every mix, every last dish and dash of the story. We want it all, we want to study it, we want to obsess over it, we want to consume it. In closing, I make no judgement on that; if it's your thing, Exposures is more than your thing. It's Everything, 1977-1981.

J.G. Bennett is famously quoted: “It is impossible to achieve the aim without suffering”. I say, it is impossible to achieve the aim without laughter!

Charles Snider/Strawberry Bricks.