Fripp & Eno – No Pussyfooting

Fripp & Eno - No Pussyfooting

In an age where digital music (in either CD or pure data format) reigns, it’s easy to take for granted the idea that it was once a lot easier to hear things completely differently than the artist intended them.

The very act of owning a variable speed record player gives a listener at least two options (often with finer adjustments), and when you figure in modern turntables meant for mixing together songs with completely different BPMs, you’re getting into some serious pitch control issues that enables the listener to figure prominently into how things are heard.

Oddly enough, not one, but two major playback errors befell No Pussyfooting at the time it was originally aired on the BBC. The first time out, the tape reel containing the music was loaded tail-first, playing the release backwards. As if that weren’t enough, the first half of the record (“The Heavenly Music Corporation”) was then played at half-speed. With any other recording, the problems would have likely been instantly noticed, but the debut instance of “Frippertronics” played out not quite as the creators would have intended. Apparently, Brian Eno even called the BBC to try to get it reversed, but they figured it was a prank and ignored him.

And so what was once a radio anomaly is now part of a deluxe remastered version of what has become a landmark ambient music recording. Originally released in 1973, it arrived at a time when Brian Eno had just left Roxy Music (the same year he released his solo album Here Comes The Warm Jets), but also roughly a year before Fripp left King Crimson for the first time. Despite the big names involved, it had several things going against it from the start, as it not only pissed off Island Records (as they were also trying to promote Eno as a “rock” artist and thought it might muddy the waters), but Fripps band mates in King Crimson reportedly hated it as well.

As mentioned above, this was the first time that the two worked with what would eventually be labeled “Frippertronics.” Of course, that’s really just a clever name for describing a series of tape loop delays, and for one half of the release that’s all you get.

“The Heavenly Music Corporation” runs about 21 minutes and finds Fripp working over the guitar while Eno tweaks the delays. It’s a super slow-burn that hums softly for a couple solid minutes before the distorted flares of Fripp start to really carve through the dissolving curls that dissipate on all sides. The remastered audio does the piece a real service, separating the layers much more than on the original release and allowing them all to work that much better. The whole thing ends in a completely different place, with deep moans of shuddering guitar that taper off like whale calls underwater.

“The Heavenly Music Corporation” [Part 2] – Fripp & Eno

The reversed and half-speed versions are obviously completely different, with the soft arcs and brilliant flickerings of the original turning into sharper bursts with longer tails on the backwards track, while the slowed-down version turns completely evil. Even the nimble guitar work sounds like it’s moving through molasses, and the slower, more layered sections cloud over into ambient doom.

On the original record, “Swastika Girls” is the more produced and less organic of the two tracks (it’s also slightly shorter at just under 19 minutes). On it, high squiggling synth lines from Eno mingle with more delayed guitar work from Fripp, and what starts as an insect, alien life form slowly morphs into a gorgeous, shimmering wash in the middle and finally a slightly explosive finale.

“Swastika Girls” [Part 1] – Fripp & Eno

The reversed version changes in much the same way as “The Heavenly Music Corporation” in that any graceful upward motion is turned into something much more sharp and brittle, with longer dissolves and some sharp tones that make it even more surreal sounding.

As mentioned above, it wasn’t received very well at the time of its original release, but esteem has only rightly grown for No Pussyfooting since. It’s one of those timeless albums that inspired countless albums and even artists. With almost the entire Eno back catalog getting the remaster treatment a couple years ago, I wondered when they would finally get around to it. With this fancy version, it could be argued that this gem received even better.

(buy No Pussyfooting at amazon.com)

This entry was posted on Friday, December 26th, 2008 at 7:03 pm and is filed under music. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “Fripp & Eno – No Pussyfooting”

  1. Aaron Says:

    Something Excellent got a makeover! I still need to check out this record, maybe this will be the motivation I needed.

  2. seezee Says:

    Then there’s the B-side to 7 Deadly Finns, a 4:50 collage of extracts from No Pussyfooting called ‘Later On’. So far, only available on the original, out-of-print 45 rpm single.