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ANDY SUMMERS & ROBERT FRIPP Bewitched (1984 UK 10-track LP housed in an embossed picture sleeve with illustrated credits inner. The sleeve shows only minor signs of age & the vinyl reveals just a few faint signs of cosmetic wear not affectingplay AMLX68569)
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But I've kept the album because I'm a fan of Crimson and because of the sheer force of Fripp's personality, which has always interested me and is certainly one of the more unusual among rock musicians. (If you want a peek into his world, check out his diary at [...]
So, I put the CD in again today and, after getting through the initial track, "Parade," found a lot to like about it. You can hear of lot of Discipline-era Crimson in some of the tracks, which feature guitar counterpoint underneath some instantly recognizable Fripp jagged solos. Plus, the album gains more depth (and space) as it moves along--the textures thin out and facilitate a more contemplative mood. A lot of this comes from Summers' influence, which I find interesting in comparison to his work with the Police.
Anyway, since this album is out of print, check for it in used bins and give it a try. And then give it another.
The best advice is quite literally to skip the first track until you are at least in a forgiving mood, if not outright stoned enough to be impressed by anything. I have never understood what the point of "Parade" was, other than to annoy people and show off a few new pedal effects for Summers' Roland guitar synthesizer. Rumor has it that the song was actually commissioned for a ski report segment on a Denver local TV news show, but whatever. It is over quickly & makes a good workout track for iPod treadmill walkers.
The album then springs to life with the raucous "What Kind Of Man Reads Playboy?", a delightfully meandering uptempo jazz/rock improvisation featuring Fripp's former League of Gentlemen bassist Sara Lee. Its a rollicking improv featuring some blistering hairy rock guitar bursts by Fripp that go absolutely nowhere while Summers riffs a descending crescendo of rhythm chords. Then the two duel with a technical display of non-distorted echo boxes, swirling pedal effects and little PING!s of electronica that is utterly hypnotic. I have always found the display of whimsy by him demonstrated here to be quite refreshing, and Andy Summers' rhythm work is once again proof as to why he's rock/pop's most unfairly overlooked musicians.
The boys then give us the album's straight up rock number, "Begin the Day" which should have been an AOR single. Fripp and Summers trade guitar licks over a bed of rhythm while swapping lead and powerchord duties. Sure, Fripp plays circles around Summers' more workman like lead sections but he holds his own, with the song hitting a frenzied high note as Fripp sets off into the stratosphere with one of his trademark bursts. Its a total studio creation but you can kind of picture what a live performance might have been like with the spotlight shifting between the two musicians, who couldn't be any different in appearance than they sound on record.
The album then settles down a bit with the title track, a pulsating & organic little creation of studio overdubs built around a six chord harmonic bridge that builds and builds layers of rhythm and synthesizer washes that culminate in a slinking, slithering Robert Fripp solo that literally pops in and out of the aural range. And unlike the previous track its all pushed into the background, none of that in-your-face power nonsense. Its a subtle and mystical composition quite fitting of its title, and continues some of the World Music sounds that both The Police and King Crimson incorporated into their white boy guitar rock.
My favorite track comes next, "Train", a hazy, Valium blue colored repetition based around a central linking effects track laid down by Fripp using his own synthesizer guitar that has been fed through a sequencer programmed to play assorted chords from a digital organ, ala "The Sheltering Sky" from the "Discipline" album. But unlike that song its not a solo piece but rather a sort of somber dirge to the working man, stuck on the train and ready for sleep at the end of the day. What is even more interesting is that if one probes into Fripp's body of work even deeper to the "Thrang Thrang Gozinblux" collection of official League Of Gentlemen bootleg tapes you can hear an embryonic version of "Train" in a composition called "Boy At Piano", albeit with a bit more soloing for those live audience needs. Bookend the two against each other on an iPod playlist sometime.
The album then interestingly devolves into a series of pure atmospherics pieces where Fripp apparently let Summers play with some of his toys while he was away at King Crimson rehearsals, specifically his digital Frippertronics setup & trademark distortion pedal "Frippleboard". The result is a series of three to four minute long aural paintings that all sort of blend into each other, the standout being the jaw-dropping "Forgotten Steps", a marvel of ambient drone music that like "Train" features a beguiling Fripp sequencer dirge lead wafting in the middle of it. Even twenty four years after the acid wore off you can still feel the song billowing in your head.
All in all a very interesting album, produced at a time when Fripp and Summers both were tiring of their commercially successful tentpole bands. According to what I've read the vast majority of the album was composed and recorded by Andy Summers along with a handful of studio musician friends over two months in the spring of 1984. Fripp would then wander into the studio whenever he had the chance and lay down some of his own counter-ideas, to be added as overdubs later at Summers' discretion (a similar approach to Fripp's reported contributions to Talking Heads and David Bowie records of the previous few years).
The result isn't so much a collaboration in the way that "I Advanced Masked" was -- though "Begin The Day" certainly has the same kind of give/take found on that prior Fripp Summers record -- as it is an Andy Summers album that just happens to feature some of Robert Fripp's most subtle and interesting work from the 1980s. And while the overall effect might pale artistically when compared with that prior Summers/Fripp album it still has a certain charm to it that I can only sum up as Easy Listening For Veteran Cosmic Art Rockers. Great background music for windowpane acid trips or lovemaking or focused hours in a painting studio, with no real content beyond a few solos here & there to get worked up over. But I am not sure if this is much of a party album for either the art rockers or the post punkers, just sort of contemplative and experimental.
And in retrospect that was probably the album's commercial downfall. It isn't freaked out or disjointed enough for the dedicated Fripp/Crimson fans (who will probably get the most mileage out of this, in all honesty) nor comercially postpunk enough oriented for Summers/Police fans. I can recall playing the record for friends who were fans of either of both bands and having them react with baffled amusement while they waited for either the Fripp solo or the Summers guitar pedal synth washes. But when all is said and done I agree with other critics who find this an even more enjoyable record that "Three Of A Perfect Pair" or "Beat", for that matter.
It certainly doesn't demand as much of the listener and the give/take between the two artists is quite engaging, as opposed to having Bill Bruford batter it into your skull with a squealing feedback loop cracking the good crystal. As for comparing it to the Police albums of the times it isn't as global in scope as "Ghost In The Machine" but doesn't waste time between the big hits like "Synchronisity". Partly because there ARE no big hits, and that may be the most enjoyable thing about it. A nice, listenable, upbeat little prog-rock jazz album that you can put on and relax with ... Very nice indeed.