Record Review: Robert Fripp – “League Of Gentlemen” US LP [part 2]

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

[…continued from last post]

One of the most astonishing songs here, “Eye Needles,” was built on urgent tick-tock rhythms played furiously on keys that had Fripp soloing with a shower of double picked notes before hanging back to beefier chords that then shifted the spotlight back to Barry Andrews equally fast organ playing. Which had the last word with a series of precise melodic runs that stopped on a dime. This is one of those songs that is so urgent, that I can sometimes forget to breathe when listening.

‘Cognitive Dissonance” opened with a splay of yes, dissonant chords while soundbites from J.G. Bennett tapes provided found vocals. Fripp’s guitar work was moving all over the scales, rarely staying in one zone as clouds of organ chords bloomed around the often high velocity runs that Fripp was unleashing. While Fripp was attracted to speedy torrents of notes, “H.G. Wells” was a rare beast in that the tempo was relatively slow. There were more found vocals of an unknown nature here with a woman’s conversational voice at some points repeating what sounded like aphorisms with an unwelcome return of the woman we’d heard simulating an orgasm back in “Indiscreet I.” As the relentless guitar and rhythm plowed forward with single minded determination, it was down to Mr. Andrews shimmering organ chords to provide the contrast here.

The flanged guitar chords on “Trap” added unnerving tension to the jittery organ lines that oscillated throughout the song. Then Fripp joined in on the vibratory exploration. The song continued to rise up the scale until a surprising burst of Crimsonian energy from Fripp that sounded like a dry run for the imminent “Discipline” album. The climax and coda for this one was definitely a King Crimson outlier; sounding more dazzling than a “New Wave dance band” had any need to be. Fripp’s tone in the coda also previewed where he’d be going with “The Sheltering Sky” in a few months’ time.

More keyboard/tape loop experimentation from Fripp occurred on “Ochre” with a more synthetic, less percussive patch than the “Pareto Optimum” cuts had used. This ended up being more melodic than those and an interesting relative of his Frippertronic work.

Then the album ended with the third “Indiscreet” cut. Offering Fripp a chance to comment editorially via sound bites taken from a variety of sources. Some from media. Others from his “indiscretions” which were down to Fripp’s penchant at the time for carrying a microcassette recorder to capture unguarded moments as well as his conversations [See: “Thela Hun Ginjeet”].

It’s surprising to listen to this and hear all of the voices on tape that factor into this album. At times, it threatens to find adjacent space to what David Byrne and Brian Eno had been doing just prior with “My Life In the Bush Of Ghosts” but here the voices are more separate from the music. Less intrinsic, and given to irony and sarcasm.

The transition from solo Fripp, with a studio full of high powered guests [see: “Exposure”], or either completely alone with Frippertronic loops, to building a band around him to rely upon for a framework for his playing marked an important transition in the final part of “The Drive To 1981.” The sound of “The League Of Gentlemen” was the sound of him reconnecting with the possibilities, dynamics, and responsibilities of a band.

It’s all done with a wide variety of approaches within the LOG framework. The seeds of “Discipline” were beginning to sprout here, but by the same token, so were those of Barry Andrews’ forthcoming big splash, Shriekback. The journey from his hyperkinetic keys from the XTC albums where he first caught our attention to the phase represented on “Exposure” and here revealed the artist dialing down energy levels to touch on drones here that were to be a defining feature of the early Shriekback. Especially “Care” where the austerity and sonic space were intrinsic to much of that music.


fripp god save the king cover art

In 2017, I finally made myself a CD of this title, since I felt it was not likely to ever reach the silver disc in a fashion identical to the 1981 LP. The 1985 CD, “God Save The King,” was a compilation taken from “God Save the Queen/Under Heavy Manners” and “The League Of Gentlemen” that lost almost half of the cuts here. With remixed material as Fripp was never content to reissue things without trying to make improvements.

It took me years to to this because of my curator’s sickness. While I had the LP for decades, what I lacked was the “Heptaparaparshinokh” 7″ which contained an 11;45 Frippertronic non-LP B-side, entitled “Marriagemuzic!” Cramming nearly 12 minutes of sound on a 7″ disc meant that, yes, it spun at 33 RPM. Maybe 16 RPM would have been an improvement! It took me until 2013 for me to find a copy of this scarce single, but then only another four years before getting arounf to actually making the CD. The LP was rather clean but the 7″ left a lot to be desired.

Most 7″ singles can sound pretty hairy after 20-40 years, and when this record had nearly enough music for three normal length songs, then something had to give. I had to get more liberal than I cared to be with the noise reduction software on “Marriagemuzic,” but since it was a Frippertronic piece, and not Rock/pop music, there was a certain leeway afforded to my efforts! The NR artifacts jibed with the overall tone of the piece so that I can listen to this without gnashing my teeth in anguish. But that was 2017. In 2022, I have much more sophisticated NR software that makes me wonder if it might be time to “remaster” this title in my unending quest for perfection.

-30-

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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13 Responses to Record Review: Robert Fripp – “League Of Gentlemen” US LP [part 2]

  1. Big Mark says:

    Marriagemuzic is one of the bonus tracks in the Exposures box.

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  2. Sam Scali says:

    Great review! I had the pleasure of seeing The League several times in NYC in 1980, and the eventual album was somewhat of a letdown in comparison to the intensity of the band in concert, That said, the LP version of “Minor Man” (with Dax) is one of my all-time favorite Fripp tracks, and I’ve long lamented its absence on CD. I also bought the ““Heptaparaparshinokh” 7″ when it was released, and I would gladly rip a copy of the B-side if you want it to hear a (presumably) cleaner version of it.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Sam Scali – Welcome to the comments! So you got to see The League in action? Nice! I’ve heard many opine that the album was a “love letter” versus a “hot date” as Fripp would have it. But the album was what it was… and many years later we all got “Thrang Thrang Gozinbulx!” Which has to be the goofiest [and coolest] album name ever. I can live with my “Marriagemuzik” rip as it was not particularly noisy…just severely groove crammed. As any copy would be. Given that Frippertronics are sonically thin and “pure,” it’s prone to revealing vinyl artifacts that might normally be obscured with bass, drums, etc. Never moreso than when jamming 12 minutes of sound on a 7″ disc! But thanks for the offer.

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