Album of the Week, November 24: The Lexicon of Love by ABC

ABC - Lexicon of LoveABC burst onto the scene with a lush and stunning debut. Singer and frontman Martin Fry had a distinctive, urbane look, a sharp wit, and a charming voice. Bandmates Mark White (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Singleton (sax), and David Palmer (drums) provided a solid musical backdrop for his ruminations on romance. Producer Trevor Horn, engineer Gary Langan and arranger Anne Dudley wrapped the sound in a beautiful package, pioneering the techniques they would pursue together and separately on numerous hits throughout the 80s. With Fry’s sense of style — he clearly studied the Bryan Ferry playbook — and the growing video phenomenon, the band became leaders in the New Romantic movement. While not a concept album as such, The Lexicon of Love is a strong, unified set of songs about love, loss, and longing.

Title The Lexicon of Love
Act ABC
Label Mercury Release Date  June 25, 1982
Producer Trevor Horn
U.S. Chart  #24 U.K. Chart  #1
Tracks [U.S. Hot 100]
  1. Show Me
  2. Poison Arrow [#25]
  3. Many Happy Returns
  4. Tears Are Not Enough
  5. Valentine’s Day
  6. The Look of Love (part one) [#18]
  7. Date Stamp
  8. All of My Heart
  9. 4 ever 2 gether
  10. The Look of Love (part four)

Fry kicks things off with Show Me, a metaphor-laden plea for some sign that the object of his affection shares his feelings. It’s urgent and impassioned, with just the right drive from the band. After this perfect introduction, things get dark with the hit Poison Arrow. A bitter tirade against the lover who rejected him, it’s a perfectly crafted pop song. Many Happy Returns begins with a spoken intro that makes way for a hectic, powerful dissection of another failed romance. Fry tosses in great rhyming images as he tries to be resigned but is clearly suffering. Tears Are Not Enough shows off his vocal range as he bemoans his lost love. Side one wraps up in high style with one of the band’s finest moments, the lovely Valentine’s Day. Fry recites a litany of signs that love is gone, noting firmly that he’s suffered each one in turn. These five tracks share an obsession with lost love and betrayal, but each views the subject from a distinct angle. The combined picture is powerful and beautifully framed by the sleek, clean production. Side two opens with the hit The Look of Love. Rising from the disappointments of side one, Fry is determined to find true love. It’s another classic pop song with a great hook, witty lyrics, and flawless delivery. Fry’s sigh over the line “I say, ‘maybe'” eases toward camp but manages to pull back just enough to be powerfully sincere. Date Stamp is a soaring ode to the risks of that love once it’s found. With wonderful harmonies, the chorus is another highlight of a nicely crafted package. The finest moment of the album comes with All of My Heart. Love is derailed, but Fry is sure it can be restored as he sings a passionate plea to his lover to return with his heart before it breaks. Lush and over-the-top in all the right ways, All of My Heart is one of the best examples of what New Romantic pop could be. With its spooky “see no evil” refrain, 4 ever 2 gether is a mysterious package. It promises lasting love but ponders all the ways it can go wrong. Fry assures the listener — with a wink — that romance can last but notes that it’s never easy. The album ends with a brief instrumental reprise of The Look of Love. The lush orchestral treatment puts an appropriate bow around this lovely package, and the soaring strings underscore the optimism that lurks in the shadows of the rest of the album. FURTHER LISTENING: ABC shed Palmer before their second album and settled on the duo of Fry and White with session support by the third. They never matched the charm, wit, and power of The Lexicon of Love, but turned out some solid pop. Beauty Stab is a look at the challenges of modern England with a much harder guitar sound. The good tracks are very good indeed, but the overall package is a bit spotty. How to Be A … Zillionaire! was their most successful US album, a solid if lightweight collection of mid-80s dance pop. After that, the albums become fairly slick and bland. ABC have been anthologized to death, with nearly a dozen packages of varying depth and quality. The best of the set is 2001’s The Look of Love: The Very Best of ABC, a solid collection of singles that, together with The Lexicon of Love provides the best overview of this talented band.

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About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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