Daryl Hall: Sacred Songs DLX RM CD 
- Sacred Songs
- Something In 4/4 Time
- Babs And Babs
- Urban Landscape
- The Farther Away I Am
- Why Was It So Easy
- Don’t Leave Me Alone With Her
- Without Tears
- You Burn Me Up I’m A Cigarette
- North Star
It was some time in 1979 when I chanced to read an interview with Robert Fripp in the pages of Omni Magazine; a you-had-to-be-there science/science fiction/speculation magazine funded by the deep pockets of pornographer Bob Guccione in a bid for respectability and a grab at the late 70s zeitgeist ring. Don’t laugh! It’s also where I first heard about The Human League! Fripp seemed to suffer no fools gladly and I had already been conversant with the early King Crimson music so his debut solo album “Exposure” he was discussing sounded very interesting. I soon bought a copy and have enjoyed it for almost 40 years.
Concurrent with “Exposure” were to be two other albums he produced for other artists: Peter Gabriel’s second album from 1978, which was the first music I’d ever heard from him [“D.I.Y.” and “On The Air” hooked me strongly] and the long suppressed Daryl Hall solo album “Sacred Songs.” This was recorded first and set the tone for the Fripp and Gabriel albums that immediately followed it.The melding of sensibilities even went down to the music, which was shared between albums. Some songs featured on more than one record, and in very different forms each time. The fly in the ointment was that RCA, Hall’s label felt that the end result could potentially damage their cash cow Hall, who had a few respectable radio hits as half of Hall And Oates. So the “Sacred Songs” album was not released until 1980, at which time I swear it was released as a cutout! I never saw a copy without a clipped corner in any store of the time.
While Fripp had conceived of the work as his “MOR Trilogy” I had only ever heard the Gabriel/Fripp corners of the triangle. While I sensed that it was produced by Fripp [how could it be bad?] it was still a Daryl Hall album, and I resisted picking up even the cheap copies of it that abounded. Until last year, when something in my brain snapped and I got on Amazon and ordered it in a fit of pique. By 1999, I had been aware of the CD released by BMG’s revived Buddha subsidiary, so the album had “made the leap” along with two of the Daryl Hall tracks from “Exposure” thoughtfully added as bonus tracks. How was it?
Well, it slots in closely with the sort of vibe that Fripp had created for the second Gabriel album fairly well. These are late 70s pop songs, with commercial intent, sometimes slathered with some quixotic art rock sauce, courtesy of Fripp’s guitar, which in the time period, was heavily into his thrilling “Fripertronic” period. The vaguely “Mott The Hoople” piano rocker that was the opening title cut could have conceivably sat on a Hall And Oates album of the time. Things got more interesting with “Something In 4/4 Time,” and incredibly self-referential tune about the process of writing a commercial pop song; cleverly undercut by the Frippertronic middle eight that came out of nowhere to take the song down a sunny, if psychedelic path for a minute or so, before snapping back to its original form.
That gambit became intensified with the subsequent “Baba And Babs.” The tantalizingly abstract ballad examined two sides of the same protagonist, and the song featured a lengthy excursion into introspective Frippertronics that hijacked the tune just like the previous cut. Only this time, when the original motif resurfaced, it was juxtaposed with a lilting Frippertronic coda that segued into the first recorded, but released second version of Fripp’s instro “Urban Landscape.” Then that number segued into the intense “NYCNY,” an early version of a track that later surfaced on “Exposure” under the “NY3” moniker. The differences here were startling since Hall sings the lyrics that make this a number a fiery example of Fripp in intense rock mode. The version on “Exposure” had a similar music bed, but Hall’s voice [and the lyrics] had been excised for some cut up environmental recordings of a Fripp’s neighbors having a family argument of the most garish variety.
“The Farther Away I Am” was an uneasy melding of Fripp’s lyrical guitar in watercolor mode along with one of my least favorite keyboard sounds ever: Fender Rhodes electric piano playing what I call ‘lullaby piano.” The backing track on this one is so scant and skeletal, that it somehow attains both intimacy and beauty in spite of the piano style that I normally hate. The rest of “side two” consisted of longer pieces [5-7 minute length] that veered closer to perhaps what might be expected of a Daryl Hall solo album, though the intense and driven “Survive” did feature some ramping up of intensity atypical to the Hall + Oates style during its almost seven minute length.
The closing “Without Tears” was something gossamer and brief to close the album on a note similar to “The Farther Away I Am,” which had opened the side. This time the piano was less cloying and the barest hint of Frippertronic guitar was barely there as Hall took command with his jazz-inflected vocals. The program was capped with the two songs from “Exposure,” the first of which was “You Burn Me Up I’m A Cigarette.” When I bought “Exposure” I got a big kick out of the weird spectacle of Hall singing verbose and obtuse Fripp lyrics in the prickliest sort of art rock setting imaginable. I still do. “North Star” was a tender ballad that showcased Hall’s command of phrasing. I though highly of it until the 2006 DLX RM of “Exposure” that finally revealed Hall’s singing of “Mary” for the first time. Instead of Terre Roche’s annoying phrasing, Hall’s performance on the number was as tender and loving a performance that I’ve ever heard. Spine tingling stuff, so some of the gloss has been scrubbed in retrospect from “North Star” for me.
I more or less enjoyed “Sacred Songs.” It kind of reminded me of the sort of albums that another blue-eyed soul singer, Robert Palmer, was crafting at exactly the same time period. Palmer’s “Clues” album embraced New Wave admirably while keeping a toe still in the mainstream rock pool; a trait certainly shared with “Sacred Songs.” The liner notes here by Jeremy Holiday and Fripp himself shed some interesting light on the politics of the time which so heavily impacted the release of the record. I find it fascinating that thirty years later, the album was probably released on CD to exploit interest in it from the perspective of Robert Fripp fans like myself.
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