Illustration from Wee Wisdom children's magazine, June 1947
I'm sure that, like most people, you associate the name ABC with the brilliant Bell Biv Devoe spin-off kids' group Another Bad Creation, but apparently there was also a new wave band of the same name that achieved some degree of success in the early '80s. Part of the "new romantics" movement, ABC has always been a little bit of a hard sell for me, but people keep raving about The Lexicon of Love, so I put it on my Amazon wishlist and - voila! - some cool friends sent it to me for Christmas.
The two famous singles from the album, "Poison Arrow" and "The Look of Love (Part 1)", tell you what you need to know about early ABC. They both have wailing saxophone intros. They both feature big, bomabastic melodies and new-wave-tinged orchestral arrangements. A very conspicuous funky fretless bassline is found in both songs. They both have the immaculate auditory shimmer of a Trevor Horn production. And yet I have always loved "The Look of Love" and been offput by "Poison Arrow". I think it's that chorus hook: "Shoot that poison arrow into my HEEEAAAAART!"
The most impressive thing to me about The Lexicon of Love is that it is a debut record. It is SO well-constructed and mature-sounding that it's hard to believe that young guys came in off the street and recorded it without any kind of track record. Martin Fry must have always been a confident and debonair frontman waiting to happen because he is not hesitant in putting his persona all over this record. The lyrics are a little too much and also not enough at times - I cringe every time at the triple-rhyme of the word "day" in the first verse of "Valentine's Day" - but they are great when they get it just right, on less well-known album tracks like "Date Stamp" and "Show Me".
The Lexicon of Love is so relentless in bringing the high-energy sophisti-pop in the album's first half that the slowing momentum of the last few songs is a welcome change. In fact, the perfectly over-the-top super-ballad "All of My Heart" is easily the album's best song, and I'm kind of surprised that the album's other singles are better known. The song does a great job of capturing the essence of the phrase "new romantic" with its falsetto-driven verses and grind-to-a-halt chorus hook and an arrangement that is somehow very new wave and also timeless. The weakest point on the album is the head-scratcher "4 Ever 2 Gether" which follows "All of My Heart" - it's too long and exudes a totally different vibe from the rest of the record. It would be a sour end to The Lexicon of Love, as it is only followed by an instrumental coda, but the CD I have adds an excellent appended closer in the form of the B-side "Theme from 'Mantrap'", a lounge-y piano reinterpretation of "Poison Arrow" that redeems that song for me entirely.
People have varying opinions on the arc ABC followed after The Lexicon of Love, but there seems to be consensus that the band's first album got it right.
"All of my Heart" by ABC