I can understand how this album has remained in the shrouded darkness of time until now: no reissues, no promotions, few reports. This shouldn’t surprise us: who has ever wasted time reviewing a prototype? Prototypes are ideas that are often put into practice in a direct, almost crude way, attempts, often unsuccessful, which lead to the discovery of errors, of possibilities, which once elaborated, cleaned up, revised, lead to a finished product, often elegant, eager for success and approval. This album is a prototype, a curious and elaborate form, perhaps with a Baroque construction, whose folds were the basis of something that would then be seen to develop in the years to come and which lays its foundations within the creative partnership between Brian Eno and Robert Fripp over the years in the second half of the seventies. “God Save The Queen / Under Heavy Manners” is a crossroads of announced possibilities, some of which have ended up in dead ends, while others have continued to expand, up to the latest works by Fripp, the recent “Leviathan” and the box “Music for quiet moments “. An intersection which, in turn, allows different levels of reading and listening, leaving the listener spoiled for choice.
Let’s start with the first side of the original album, “God Save The Queen”, which contained recordings made on tour in 1979 after the publication of “Exposure”, a performance based on Frippetronics that Fripp performed in unconventional places (record shops, offices, areas restaurants, planetariums) armed only with his Gibson Les Paul guitar, a pedal board and two Revox tape recorders. They are mostly scattered performances with a separate melody, which sometimes appears between the layers and textures generated by the guitar. A layering of improvised guitars across the two Revox units. This is pure Frippertonics, with nothing but Fripp’s guitar and no other sound that is not processed by the two recorders. Music is something like the ebb and flow of waves and is potentially very relaxing. Each of the three pieces is both a study of minimalism and a representation of the desire to distance himself from the grandiose music he created between the early and mid-1970s. The big progressive rock productions had passed away and Fripp was trying to latch onto the more avant-garde art-rock and new wave bands that were emerging in the late 1970s. Minimalism also had a great influence during this period. Composers like Steve Reich and Phillip Glass almost looked like rock stars and pop artists like Devo and Talking Heads were enjoying tremendous popularity with their minimalism-influenced rock. It should therefore not be surprising the presence of Byrne in the song “Under Heavy Manners”, a fun experiment of “Discotronics” that blends Frippetronics and dancefloor four-quarter rhythms with the help of bassist Busta Cherry Jones and drummer Paul Duskin, and in which Byrne sings obsessively screaming a text in which each verse ends in ‘ism’. It is dance that you can dance with your brain, perhaps while working in an architecture studio.
He is the neurotic David Byrne of the best Talking Heads records, the one who in 1979 shouted that “This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, This ain’t no fooling around No time for dancing, or lovey dovey, I ain’t got time for that now “. And in 1980, indeed, there was no more time for music or dancing, not even at the Mudd Club and at C. B. G. B. Also because, in 1980, Fripp was traveling fast: “Exposure” had just come out in 1979, “The League Of Gentlemen ”and“ Let The Power Fall ”will follow shortly in 1981, while the collaboration with old friend Andy Summers,“ I Advance Masked ”will arrive in 1982. We add the return of King Crimson with a new line-up and a legendary album such as“ Disciplines ”and we can understand how Robert Fripp in the early 80s is a man on a mission, looking for new possibilities and open directions. The second track, “The Zero of the Signified” lasts more than 12 minutes and this time it further explores the sound of the complete band with no vocals. The nice thing about this track is that after about halfway, the other instruments come to an end as the soundscape created by Fripp’s guitar work is left to finish the track, returning to the essential nakedness of the first part of the album. “Music On Hold” is a jam recently discovered during the assembly work of the box set of “Exposure” and which testifies to Fripp’s skill and imagination when it comes to improvising for a long time on a single chord.
“God Save The Queen / Under Heavy Manners” is a patently imperfect album, an embryonic work made up of ideas and circuits left open, experimental music on which Fripp began to build a personal career in ambient music, indicating new directions for this genre and demonstrating that the guitar was no longer just the instrument of pop and rock music. With flippertronics the guitar becomes something else, it begins its own personal journey outside of pop music to become an icy intellectual object, at the service of the mind and thought, no longer just sweat and sex. A dress rehearsal of an attempt to move the guitar sound in the 1980s. The interesting thing here is that even today bands and guitarists use his techniques and styles, however, with more up-to-date equipment that produces more interesting sounds. But the technique is still there, Fripp’s ideas are still used and this album, while not exactly a masterpiece, should occupy a better place in the progression of modern music. Rediscover it, don’t let another forty years pass.