Friday, 22. April 2011
ABC: THE LEXICON OF LOVE (1982)
1) Show Me; 2) Poison Arrow; 3) Many Happy Returns; 4) Tears Are Not Enough; 5) Valentines Day; 6) The Look Of Love; 7) Date Stamp; 8) All Of My Heart; 9) 4 Ever 2 Gether; 10) The Look Of Love (part 4).
History has commanded that ABC remain in it represented exclusively by their first album: a cruel decision, considering that The Lexicon Of Love is just as much owned by the band's production team as it is by its own songwriting and performing. ABC were certainly not a «manufactured» outfit: guitarist Mark White and sax player Stephen Singleton play their own instruments, and play them fine, lead vocalist Martin Fry howls, wails, and croons in his own voice, and all of the songs are completely self-written. But the real reason why The Lexicon Of Love became huge in 1982, and continues to remain huge in the brains of all retrospectivists up to this day, has nothing to do with the band.
Because, essentially, The Lexicon Of Love is the album that created The Art Of Noise: assigned to the production guidance of Trevor Horn, ABC soon found their songs tampered with and embellished by about half a dozen extra musicians, including Anne Dudley, who was put in charge of the orchestration, and J. J. Jeczalik, responsible for most of the keyboard programming. This was the first time Horn, Dudley, and Jeczalik worked together, and they liked it so much they decided that, next time around, they would be changing history on their own, without no nerdy pop kids spoiling their fun with silly danceable love songs.
Of course, if you're a pop kind of person rather than a freaky avantgardiste, The Lexicon Of Love, to you, will be the best Art Of Noise album that Art Of Noise never made. I cannot help (predictably) mentioning, though, that, like most of the popular stuff made in the 1980s, it is unpleasantly dated. The keyboards, more often than not, sound just like the cheap, lifeless, hollow-ringtone stuff that they should sound like; and the programmed drum machines are totally in line with the whole «let's cut down on budget expenses by firing the drummer» ideology of the time (ironically, ABC still had a real drummer, David Palmer, and he was pretty damn good when they actually let him drum).
Discount that time-related factor, though, and The Lexicon Of Love will probably appear to you exactly as the unquestionable masterpiece that most critics have proclaimed it to be. Nine well-written songs (plus one reprise), each dominated by at least one catchy vocal chorus/hook, but never forgetting about real meat value when it comes to instrumentation either: there are enough funky basslines, quirky guitar riffs, and mesmerizing sax patterns to fill out a minor band's entire career. Meanwhile, Horn and Co. ensure that the background be properly strewn with as many overdubs as it takes to instigate a symphonic feeling, but never too many so as not to drown any of the songs' original attitudes. After all, this is supposed to be «the lexicon of love», not «the lexicon of cool studio tricks».
The difference it takes is striking when you compare the original single release of 'Tears Are Not Enough', produced by Steve Brown, with the Horn team re-recording: from the very first seconds, the chicken-scratchy guitar rings out as if it were trying to establish itself as an art form, rather than simply mumbling quietly in the background, allowing you to dance to it and nothing more. This pushes the disco form much further than, say, Giorgio Moroder's style, further away from the hunting territory of «body music» and more into the realm of the «anything can happen» spirit. But, of course, technically it's still dance music.
The hit singles — 'Poison Arrow', 'The Look Of Love', 'All Of My Heart' — were all deserved, but really, any of these songs would do as a hit single, despite the fact that the album is sometimes described as «conceptual». Obviously, when you give that kind of a title to your record, people will expect to see an actual «lexicon» — for instance, each song describing a separate kind of love-related emotion. But even if that were so, each of these emotional tugs would still work on its own. In this respect, it is Martin Fry's personal achievement that the band pulls it off: frequent comparisons with Bryan Ferry are an exaggeration (Fry never had the range, smoothness, or slickness of Mr. Lounge Rocker; it is really the visual style of his performance that is primarily responsible for the comparison), but he has enough intelligence, both in his lyrics and his voice, to perform all of his relatively simple, and potentially quite banal, duties well in style.
A firm advice is to go for the recent 2-CD «deluxe» edition of the album. Not only does it throw on such tasty outtakes as a whole whoppin' big 'Overture' (featuring Dudley's orchestrated renditions of each of the album's songs, unfortunately, dropped off the original album except for a few opening bars at the beginning of 'Show Me') and a hilarious eight-minute version of the disco rave-up 'Alphabet Soup' (showcasing the impressive instrumental skills of each of the band's members); the real highlight is a complete live performance at the Hammersmith Odeon in November 1982, with pretty much the entire album reproduced. You'd think it'd suck without the Art of Noise to lend a helping hand, but it does not: on the contrary, you get to hear a live, fresh, young, aggressive sound, with real crunchy drumming throughout to compensate for the lack of studio trickery. If the original release understandably gets a heart-felt, mind-endorsed thumbs up, the reissue is reason enough to grow an extra pair of thumbs.