Monday, July 4, 2016

Andy Summers & Robert Fripp - 1984 "Bewitched"

On Andy Summers and Robert Fripp's second album, Bewitched, the duo offered a new batch of their instrumental songs, which turned out to be much more rock-oriented than their texturized 1982 debut, I Advance Masked. The album was originally going to be a more musically varied affair -- at the time, Summers talked about recording calypso and Tex-Mex/Ry Cooder-like tunes with Fripp, but they never saw the light of day. Like its predecessor, it contains plenty of great guitar work, with songwriting being stressed over instrumental virtuosity. For example, Summers and Fripp know how to subtly insert challenging sections into their songs (such as the 7/4 time signature in "Maquillage"), without making them seem like an obvious attempt to impress fellow musicians. Although '80s-sounding electronic drums are primarily used for backbeats (such as the track "Train"), it doesn't take away from the album's charm. Whereas their last album featured a few compositions that were quite King Crimson-like, their sophomore effort contains a few that sound like Police instrumentals (the title track). Unfortunately, Bewitched would prove to be Summers and Fripp's last collaboration together.

"Bewitched, taken in and of itself, is a strong album. As a follow up to I Advance Masked, the previous collaboration of Summers and Fripp, it has less in the way of highs and lows and is a more even effort.
"The song Bewitched is a deep piece (a definite 'mood' number) that demonstrates that skill on the guitar is as much a feature of knowing when NOT to play than how wildly you can thrash. Maquillage is an exercise in dark guitar, expressively rendered. Guide, Forgotten Steps and Image and Likeness are a trio of mood pieces that suggest a trip to dream destinations.
"I was disappointed with Parade and What Kind of Man Reads Playboy -- while the guitar playing is definitely high level, I have a mental picture of that music being played behind today's sporting highlights on the news (though the bass playing of Sara Lee is fun on WKoMRP).
"I almost suggest buying Bewitched before buying I Advance Masked -- it prepares one for the more challenging predecessor. If you like KC songs like Lark's Tongues (any part), Red, Discipline, Sartori in Tangier, or Sheltering Sky, you'll love this one too."

"Bewitched" is one of my alltime favorite albums. This was actually released the spring that I was a junior in high school and helped keep up the interest between King Crimson albums at a point when the 1981 version of KC was starting to show a little at the seams. Its a remarkable production, a collection of trippy dance pop art atmospheres more than actual songs, very much a creation of the studio and very tied in with the 1980s music technologies that both King Crimson's Robert Fripp and The Police's Andy Summers were leading innovators of.

The best advice is quite literally to skip the first track until you are at least in a forgiving mood, if not outright stoned enough to be impressed by anything. I have never understood what the point of "Parade" was, other than to annoy people and show off a few new pedal effects for Summers' Roland guitar synthesizer. Rumor has it that the song was actually commissioned for a ski report segment on a Denver local TV news show, but whatever. It is over quickly & makes a good workout track for iPod treadmill walkers.

The album then springs to life with the raucous "What Kind Of Man Reads Playboy?", a delightfully meandering uptempo jazz/rock improvisation featuring Fripp's former League of Gentlemen bassist Sara Lee. Its a rollicking improv featuring some blistering hairy rock guitar bursts by Fripp that go absolutely nowhere while Summers riffs a descending crescendo of rhythm chords. Then the two duel with a technical display of non-distorted echo boxes, swirling pedal effects and little PING!s of electronica that is utterly hypnotic. I have always found the display of whimsy by him demonstrated here to be quite refreshing, and Andy Summers' rhythm work is once again proof as to why he's rock/pop's most unfairly overlooked musicians.

The boys then give us the album's straight up rock number, "Begin the Day" which should have been an AOR single. Fripp and Summers trade guitar licks over a bed of rhythm while swapping lead and powerchord duties. Sure, Fripp plays circles around Summers' more workman like lead sections but he holds his own, with the song hitting a frenzied high note as Fripp sets off into the stratosphere with one of his trademark bursts. Its a total studio creation but you can kind of picture what a live performance might have been like with the spotlight shifting between the two musicians, who couldn't be any different in appearance than they sound on record.

The album then settles down a bit with the title track, a pulsating & organic little creation of studio overdubs built around a six chord harmonic bridge that builds and builds layers of rhythm and synthesizer washes that culminate in a slinking, slithering Robert Fripp solo that literally pops in and out of the aural range. And unlike the previous track its all pushed into the background, none of that in-your-face power nonsense. Its a subtle and mystical composition quite fitting of its title, and continues some of the World Music sounds that both The Police and King Crimson incorporated into their white boy guitar rock.

My favorite track comes next, "Train", a hazy, Valium blue colored repetition based around a central linking effects track laid down by Fripp using his own synthesizer guitar that has been fed through a sequencer programmed to play assorted chords from a digital organ, ala "The Sheltering Sky" from the "Discipline" album. But unlike that song its not a solo piece but rather a sort of somber dirge to the working man, stuck on the train and ready for sleep at the end of the day. What is even more interesting is that if one probes into Fripp's body of work even deeper to the "Thrang Thrang Gozinblux" collection of official League Of Gentlemen bootleg tapes you can hear an embryonic version of "Train" in a composition called "Boy At Piano", albeit with a bit more soloing for those live audience needs. Bookend the two against each other on an iPod playlist sometime.

The album then interestingly devolves into a series of pure atmospherics pieces where Fripp apparently let Summers play with some of his toys while he was away at King Crimson rehearsals, specifically his digital Frippertronics setup & trademark distortion pedal "Frippleboard". The result is a series of three to four minute long aural paintings that all sort of blend into each other, the standout being the jaw-dropping "Forgotten Steps", a marvel of ambient drone music that like "Train" features a beguiling Fripp sequencer dirge lead wafting in the middle of it. Even twenty four years after the acid wore off you can still feel the song billowing in your head.

All in all a very interesting album, produced at a time when Fripp and Summers both were tiring of their commercially successful tentpole bands. According to what I've read the vast majority of the album was composed and recorded by Andy Summers along with a handful of studio musician friends over two months in the spring of 1984. Fripp would then wander into the studio whenever he had the chance and lay down some of his own counter-ideas, to be added as overdubs later at Summers' discretion (a similar approach to Fripp's reported contributions to Talking Heads and David Bowie records of the previous few years).

Tracks Listing

1. Parade (3:01)
2. What Kind of Man Reads Playboy (11:12)
3. Begin the Day (3:33)
4. Train (4:33)
5. Bewitched (3:53)
6. Tribe (3:23)
7. Maquillage (2:16)
8. Guide (2:34)
9. Forgotten Steps (3:57)
10. Image and Likeness (1:30)

Total Time: 40:18

Line-up / Musicians

- Robert Fripp & Andy Summers / guitars, Roland guitar synthesizer, Jupiter 6 synthesizer, sequencer, drum machine, percussion, tape loop
- Chris Childs / bass
- Sara Lee / bass
- Paul Beavis / drums
- Chris Winter / saxophone
- Jesse Lota / tablas



  2. Good but their first "I Advance Masked" is rated higher.