Friday, November 19, 2021

Robert Fripp 2: Sylvian/Fripp

David Sylvian was best known as the dreamy frontman for the New Wave band Japan; he became better acquainted with Robert Fripp after doing a session together in 1985. At the turn of the ‘90s, Fripp had toyed with the idea of another incarnation of King Crimson, with Sylvian as lead singer. While that didn’t happen, the two did manage to complete a collaborative tour, which resulted in an album.
The Next Day is very much a collaboration, dominated by Sylvian’s croon, over loops as well as real drums and percussion, with Fripp mostly adding color on the side when he’s not driving the riff. Another key contributor is Trey Gunn, who’d graduated from Guitar Craft student to proficient Chapman Stick player and had joined the duo on the initial tour. Veteran drummer Jerry Marotta is also on a few tracks, along with computer treatments from co-producer David Botrill.
The album begins with the funky (always a strange word to associate with Fripp) “God’s Monkey”. But for the experiments in meter, this is fairly mainstream, as is “Jean The Birdman” with its dense lyrics. “Firepower” brings in a lot more crunch, and sports more familiar Fripp soloing that livens up the second half of this ten-minute track. (Plus, what sounds like a violin evokes echoes of the Larks’ Tongues era.) Another snaky riff drives “Brightness Falls”, which is just too slow to be danceable.
The second half of the album is a little more indulgent. “20th Century Dreaming (A Shaman’s Song)” has promise at first, but soon devolves into ambient effects while the bassline burbles beneath. Not so for “Darshan (Road To Graceland)”, which explores the era’s ubiquitous “Manchester beat” loop for about 17 minutes. It picks up anytime Sylvian sings an actual verse or Fripp’s guitar comes up in the mix, but takes up a lot of space without really going anywhere, despite the title. If anything, it makes the Frippertronic soundscape of “Bringing Down The Light” more welcome.
To support the album, the duo plus Gunn recruited “infinite guitarist” Michael Brook and Pat Mastelotto, most famous for pounding the skins for Mr. Mister, for a brief tour. The shows at the Royal Albert Hall were released as a limited edition CD called Damage, which Sylvian remixed and resequnced in 2001 for a more widespread release. The first version gets points for beginning with the moody title track, while the second adds “Jean The Birdman” at the expense of “Darshan”, which also cuts six minutes from the total disc time. Both versions provide better performances of the album’s tunes, plus a few selections from Sylvian’s solo albums as well as a song from Rain Tree Crow, the eponymous Japan reunion from 1991. In both cases, the albums end with two more rare songs: the rocking outtake “Blinding Light Of Heaven” and the much more subdued “The Next Day”.
While the pair wouldn’t take their collaboration further, the rhythm section would continue to be useful for Fripp. In hindsight, The Next Day and particularly Damage very much foreshadowed his next adventure.

David Sylvian & Robert Fripp The Next Day (1993)—3
Damage (1994)—3

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