30 Years Ago: ABC open The Lexicon Of Love
On June 25, 1982, ABC released its debut album, The Lexicon of Love. The album turned out to the harbinger of a new pop era and the first flowering of a major talent that would go on to leave an enormous mark on the decade's musical landscape. Unfortunately for ABC, I'm talking about producer Trevor Horn.
Not that ABC were chancers, mind you. A good old-fashioned concept album that deconstructs the concept of the love song even as it proffers multiple sterling examples of the same, The Lexicon of Love is up there with Scritti Politti's Cupid and Psyche 85 as a simultaneous critique and celebration of pop music in all its gaudy glory. A mélange of R&B basslines, Burt Bacharach orchestrations and lyrics that owe as much to Jacques Derrida as Holland-Dozier-Holland, it's a truly glorious achievement. "The Look of Love" and "Poison Arrow" were deserved hits on both sides of the Atlantic, and just about every other song on the album matches them.
The only problem is that they didn't know what to do next. Late 1983's Beauty Stab replaced drummer David Palmer with Roxy Music's former rhythm section of bassist Alan Spenner and drummer Andy Newmark and went for a stripped-down sound and more overtly socio-political lyrics. After that record flopped, saxophonist Stephen Singleton left and the remaining duo of singer Martin Fry and guitarist-keyboardist Mark White went in entirely the opposite direction, recreating themselves as an Archies-style cartoon band and making the unapologetically cynical dance-pop album How To Be A Zillionaire. One last image shift into a retro Northern Soul-inspired act for 1987's Alphabet City landed the final hit "When Smokey Sings," but 1989's dive into house music, Up, was a dismal failure, and the two albums that followed were even more forgettable.
Horn was already a known quantity when he signed on to produce The Lexicon of Love, first as the leader of new wave duo Buggles and then as Jon Anderson's temporary replacement in a controversial lineup of prog-rock dinosaurs Yes. But it was on The Lexicon of Love that Horn gathered what would become his primary team of collaborators: keyboardist/arranger Anne Dudley, Fairlight CMI programmer J.J. Jeczalik and engineer Gary Langan. Between them, Horn and his musical partners created the widescreen, rhythm-forward sound that quickly became Horn's signature. Going on to work with Malcolm McLaren (Duck Rock), Yes (90125) and most famously Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Horn and his partners basically reinvented the sound of British pop music in their image in 1983/84. Meanwhile, with the addition of theorist and sloganeer Paul Morley, the group's own releases as The Art of Noise sounded positively otherworldly. The rest of the Art of Noise went on their own in 1985, and neither they nor Horn ever reached the same quirky heights that started with this one near-perfect album.
|The Look of Love|