Record Review: Robert Fripp – “League Of Gentlemen” US LP [part 1]

The League Of Gentlemen [L-R]: Johnny Toobad, The Headmaster™, Sara Lee, Mr. Andrews

Robert Fripp’s “Drive To 1981” culminated in a trio of albums for that most significant year. The first out of the box was perhaps the most surprising of the Fripp albums of that period. “The League Of Gentlemen” was a strange mixture of Fripp’s concept of a high-octane “New Wave Instrumental Dance Band” graced with a few stabs at “found vocal collage” such as we heard earlier on “Exposure,” and some minimal instrumental work that seemed to be an outlier to nowhere in the Great Fripp Plan. Little did we know that King Crimson would be manifest again within six months when this zippy [and occasionally, frantic] little record dropped down the chute in March of 1981.

robert fripp league of gentlemen cover art
Polydor | US | LP | 1981 | PD-1-6317

Robert Fripp: The League OF Gentlemen – US – LP [1981]

  1. Indiscreet I
  2. Inductive Resonance
  3. Minor Man
  4. Heptaparaparshinokh
  5. Dislocated
  6. Pareto Optimum I
  7. Eye Needles
  8. Indiscreet II
  9. Pareto Optimum II
  10. Cognitive Dissonance
  11. HG Wells
  12. Trap
  13. Ochre
  14. Indiscreet III

To hear Fripp speak of it now, the reason why there were three “indiscretions” inserted into the running time and accounting for 5:48 of the album was down to Johnny Toobad’s chemical habit. The band’s drummer only actually played on two of the album’s tracks [“Heptaparaparshinokh” and “Dislocated”], leaving Kevin [China Crisis] Wilkinson the rest of the album to drum on. Namely, lack of material. But since he indulged in similar microcassette hijinx on his “Exposure” album, I would suggest that he put them there because he wanted to. Otherwise, knowing Fripp, he would have just improvised something to fill the space [see: “Moonchild”]

The “indiscretions” here were a mixed bag of Fripguru J.G. Bennett’s pontifications, his partner at the time, poet Joanna Walton discussing rock and roll with various others, an unidentified woman moaning sexually, as well as nuclear anxiety bomb sirens going off. Ironically, that same year Duran Duran debuted and claimed they wanted to be the band people were dancing to when The Bomb dropped, so it looked like Fripp was sinking his teeth deep into the neck of the zeitgeist with this album.

Subsequent issues of this material over the years have been hit or miss but one thing absolutely missing were these Indescretions. I suspect that it may have something to do with Ms. Walton’s death in the Lockerbie bombing incident in 1988 and Fripp’s ill ease at having these cavalier snatches of conversation representing her memory.

The impetus of this album was for Fripp, a notoriously intellectual player, to finally embrace the messy, physical nature of Rock music face to face with material intended to be danced to. So the album was often constructed of Fripps’ almost inhuman guitar ostinatos repeated four to the bar while Barry Andrews [ex-XTC, “Exposure”] added organ runs and drones to provide counterpoint. With the rhythm section staying minimal to anchor it all. Dance music for sure… but for weirdos. [This weirdo raises hand]

“Inductive Resonance” roared out of the starting blocks with an energetic organ glissando and an oscillating, rhythmic organ figure that may have been bounced through a delay for maximum potency. Fripp’s melodic lines were loopy rondos in a minor key to provide maximum contrast. By the song’s midpoint Fripp’s ostinatos were getting inhumanly fast, before the middle eight where they kicked into overdrive. Through all of the flurry of 16th notes, Mr. Andrews’ organ provided a cheery counterpoint to Fripp’s increasingly manic guitar. As if you played “96 Tears” at 78 rpm and dared Fripp to keep up, only to have him reach double time.

Danielle Dax 1981

Ms. Dax ca. 1981 © Akido hada

The album next took a shift to somewhere else to allow for the unique presence of Danielle Dax [then with Lemon Kittens – she also provided the cover drawing here] to offer sprechgesang verbalizing and lyrics on the arresting
Minor Man.” Fripp’s anxiety-inducing chording here suggested a further exploration of the vibe he had begun exploring on “Exposure’s ” “I May Not Have Had Enough Of Me But I’ve Had Enough Of You.” With Fripp’s climactic eruption of frenzied chords I half expect to hear “First Inaugural Address To The I.A.C.E. Sherborne House” blast afterward each time I listen.

Editions EG | UK | 7″ | 1980 | EGEDS 1

While the album had been a wild ride thus far, with no two tracks seemingly alike, this was changing again for the impossibly cheerful pre-release single “Heptaparaparshinokh.” Leave it to Fripp to name what was the most infectious earworm here after Gurdjieff’s Sacred Law of the Sevens. That very well may be, but the guitar here is simply among the most joyous pieces that Mr. Fripp had ever committed to tape with nesting rondos of ever increasing, crosspicked complexity lifting our mood with each second while the organ of Mr. Andrews glowed like a miniature sun.

Editions EG | UK | 7″ | 1981 | EGEDS 2

The second [?!] single from the album was the pressure cooker of “Dislocated” where Fripp and Andrews alternated clouds of anxious “stinger” chords to spar with Johnny Toobad’s aggressive drumming, which added fills to complete with the organ and guitar for our immediate attention. Giving us a single which was the musical antithesis to the first.

The album also had a pair of tracks called “Pareto Optimum” which sounded like little else out there, with clusters of bell-like tones repeating and resolving into patterns. I don’t think that there was a guitar within miles of these two [or the similar “Ochre”] being laid down to tape. It sounded for all the world like Mr. Andrews playing a Selmer Pianotron into a four second tape loop, as the tracks explored the ideal of their titles; a state where no actor/criterion can be improved without introducing an element of diminishment to another. But, as it turns out, this theory is very wrong. Mr. Andrews reports that we are actually hearing Mr. Fripp playing a synth of indeterminate provenance [“a Roland something or other…”] …into a tape loop. Well, with tape loops involved, the music did scream “Fripplike” even as the division of labor within the band was seemingly clear cut.

Roland’s VK-09 electronic organ just might be the instrument we’re hearing…muses Barry Andrews after digging deep

Next: …Needles In A Camel’s Eye

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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4 Responses to Record Review: Robert Fripp – “League Of Gentlemen” US LP [part 1]

  1. rangster says:

    What a sharp ear you have for dissecting this strange record. Somehow I had missed B.A. had been involve with Fripp at all, more the shame on me for I’ve been a devoted Shriek supporter since the Oil and Gold launched and the entire backwards and forwards catalog, which quickly thereafter assembled on my record shelf. By association, last week saw Adrian Belew play “The Flying Monkee” club on his most excellent solo (trio) tour doing a lot from his two most recent releases: Pop Sided and Elevator. Both full of happy and creative stuff with major Beatles/ELO/and is that an XTC chord progression ala Andy Partridge? I’m totally enamored. And he’s still singing Indiscipline and other proggie/zappie/bowie things. And today the Fripp/Eno Beyond Even double disk arrived by post from the UK. Happy summer! Weird dance music forever!


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Rangster – Belew just appeared in town and I’m not ready for shows yet but he’s usually in top form. Not shocked, and his exploration of Beatleesque pop [NOT my favorite thing] somehow works for me. The “Inner Revolution” album is possibly my favorite album of that type. There aren’t many such albums that speak to me! And Barry Andrews is one of the rare ones who got the call to play with both Fripp and Eno! So… his one valid comparison with Phil Collins!


  2. schwenko says:

    Am I correct to think that even “Exposures” doesn’t include all these tracks on cd?


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