ABC – “The Lexicon of Love” (1982)

November 15, 2008 at 6:33 am (David Fricke, Reviews & Articles)

David Fricke review from Rolling Stone (issue #378), Sept. 16, 1982. This pure pop classic is a favorite among friends of mine…

There are a million ways to say “I love you” in pop music, and Martin Fry, the singer and leader of ABC, has managed to cram many of them onto this dazzling debut album. Fry, who wears his heart on his silk shirt sleeve like a giant diamond cuff link, flashes a Phil Spector-like armada of horns, synthesizers, strings, percussion and backup sirens as he compiles a pumping disco dictionary of sordid B-movie romantic maneuvers and smug sexual wordplay.

The heartbreaking turns and wicked verbal jousting that characterize the lyrics (“With your heart on parade and your heart on parole/I hope you find a sucker to buy that mink stole,” he sings in “Valentine’s Day”) may seem like soap opera fare. Yet Fry’s vocal playacting – broad gestures à la David Bowie fringed with Bryan Ferry’s aching tremolo – and the intricate yet remarkably fluid arrangements turn them into a winning combination of Gamble-Huff R&B glitz and martial funkadelic guts.

ABC’s recent British hit single, “Poison Arrow,” is typical of the songs here: a dramatically pleading chorus and a nimble bass line are elevated to the level of High Pop with the strategic deployment of a smoky soprano sax, an oriental marimba figure and a synthesized drum roll that explodes in Fry’s face as his girl brutally cuts him down. Producer Trevor Horn (formerly of the Buggles and Yes) orchestrates these devilish touches into a series of snowballing climaxes braked only by the Bowiemeets-Henry Mancini sweep of the candlelight ballad “All of My Heart.”

Martin Fry’s fixation on the language of love and the look of his songs suggests that this album doesn’t come entirely from the heart. But the hydraulic pump and radiant glitz of the The Lexicon of Love are guaranteed to leave you swooning in spite of yourself. If not in Fry’s tears, then certainly in your own dance-floor sweat. 


David Fricke

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