Review Summary: Two musical innovators come together to throw caution to the wind and craft a strange, highly entertaining, and surprisingly fun project. The First Day is a challenging, deeply satisfying experience that sounds wholly original.
It was a long time coming for David Sylvian and Robert Fripp to collaborate together. Fripp co-wrote three songs from Sylvian's 1986 masterpiece Gone to Earth
and recorded some of the guitar tracks. He had invited Sylvian to join him in the reformed King Crimson on lead vocals, but Sylvian declined. The stars finally aligned in 1992 for each of them to be in the right place in their careers and lives to take the time to collaborate 50/50 together, resulting in The First Day
and Damage: Live
, which features three more original songs, including the title track. It comes as no surprise that what Fripp and Sylvian came up with would be excellent, but those familiar with the two men's work were probably not expecting it to sound as light-hearted and, well, fun as it ended up being. Despite this, the songwriting is dynamic, at times mind-bending, and consistently interesting.
The First Day
succeeds with flying colors at maintaining an aura of playfulness among such adventurous and downright strange musical terrain. Layered guitar riffs and melodies are abundant throughout, frequently alongside alien ambiance that will often creep into the mix. The transformation that rocker "Brightness Falls" takes into its beautiful, ethereal second half is enchanting to behold. The First Day
is uncompromising, almost to a fault, but these master songwriters make it work. Their daring nature makes for the highly successful album highlight "Darshan (The Road to Graceland)," an 18-minute powerhouse, resembling the style of Fripp's The League of Gentlemen
on steroids. A driving dance rhythm propels the song forward while all manner of guitar licks, solos, and psychedelic sound effects permeate the listener's mind.
The mix of Fripp's prog rock guitar style and Sylvian's more meditative songwriting and warm singing voice make for an interesting outcome. The combination makes more sense upon repeated listens of The First Day
, as it sounds a bit bizarre at first. A song like "20th Century Dreaming (A Shaman's Song)" for example begins with some of the heaviest guitar riffs Fripp has ever recorded, culminating in a dissonant guitar solo that wouldn't sound out of place on a Meshuggah album. The song hasn't even reached the halfway point by the time the solo ends, as it completely breaks down and settles into an unsettling ambient section. Sylvian's warm singing voice appears throughout the entirety of the song, and manages to fit with the heavier sections of The First Day
and the quieter moments alike.
Most of the tracks on The First Day
, like "20th Century Dreaming (A Shaman's Song)" turn traditional song structures on their heads for highly engaging results. These transitions work, and Sylvian and Fripp manage to avoid coming across as self-indulgent due to how entertaining and well-crafted everything feels. The listener understands that no compromises were made in the making of The First Day
, which should not come as a surprise to those familiar with David Sylvian or Robert Fripp. Despite the light-hearted playfulness in so much of the album, that sense of firm musical integrity present in all the music that's been touched by Sylvian and Fripp over the years remains ever-present. They didn't waste a single minute together, and took full advantage of the time they had to make something truly special and unpredictable. The First Day
remains an avant-garde, yet carefree project that's an essential listen for those familiar with these two music legends.