Title: Lexicon of Love, ABC
Author: Tom Cox
Source: The Observer
Publish date: Sunday June 20, 2004
With its gold lamé flourishes, Lexicon of Love seemed to come from nowhere on its release in June 1982. In fact, ABC had come into existence when Martin Fry had interviewed guitarist Mark White and saxophonist Stephen Singleton, two members of Sheffield-based electronic act Vice Versa, for his fanzine Modern Drugs. Once Fry joined as a singer, he took control of the band, changed their name, and forged an album full of musical contradictions that would stand as a high-water mark of Eighties pop.
At its best, Lexicon of Love sounds not unlike Scott Walker fronting Chic. You might be forgiven for thinking that nobody in their right mind would want to mix hi-energy hedonist's beats with existential crooning, but Fry sounds very much in his right mind, high on his own wordplay as brilliant couplet after brilliant couplet trips off his silver tongue. Even the bits where he gets the female backing vocalists in and whispers to them don't sound too cheesy.
This is largely because there's so much commitment in his voice that Lexicon's songs - potential hits, every one of them - demand to be taken seriously. Philosophising like 'Your reason for living's your reason for leaving', set against elastic basslines, runs a little deeper than the heart of Saturday night, and makes you forget so many of the rules: that disco is meant to be flippant, that it should have been dead by 1982, that an Eighties production like this isn't meant to sound so lush.
The contribution of producer Trevor Horn (already famous with Buggles and later to work with Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Tatu) was key, but so too was the band's attitude. 'We spend a lot of time crafting the songs - they must be danceable, memorable, intelligent, functional, passionate,' they said at the time. 'These things shouldn't be excluded from pop music - they should be exploited and exaggerated.' Conscious of their place in a Sheffield scene that had also thrown up the Human League, they added that 'writing songs is more important than any movement'.
ABC's next album saw the start of a slow decline, but Lexicon of Love had already made good on all their promises - and had hit number one to boot.
How it felt for Martin Fry:
'For 'All of My Heart', Trevor Horn said we should go for a big orchestration, and we were a bit reticent. He gave me an IOU and said if the record went to number one he would give me £1m. The single didn't actually get to number one. The album did but I've never cashed it in.
'Trevor's attitude was that anything was possible. He said: "If you want a clarinet player, I can get you a clarinet player. If you want pizza, I can get you pizza." That was inspiring. When I listen to it now, it does have a consistency because it's all about the same thing: me ranting on about lost love. 'Show Me', the opener, would be my favourite track. Twenty-two years later I can still get in a taxi and someone will say "So Martin, have you found true love?"'