“No one gives a damn who you think you are!” Martin Fry exclaims this on “Singer Not the Song,” an album cut from their ninth long player, The Lexicon of Love II (Virgin / EMI) which was just released last week in the United Kingdom. It lands on American shores this Friday.
It’s an apt statement to describe the uphill battle Fry began waging 34 years ago when ABC―the group he fronted and now solely comprises―dropped their epochal debut, The Lexicon of Love (1982).
Though working in guitar and synth touches at various intervals post-The Lexicon of Love, the core of ABC’s British pop cinema (refinement, intelligence and danceability) was never betrayed.
But like any act that puts forth an album that defined an era, ABC became victimized by contentious fans and cynical critics who wanted the same thing again and again; Fry could not xerox ABC’s said debut and maintain creative integrity, but is The Lexicon of Love II a delayed surrender?
Fry, alongside Anne Dudley (who has contributed to scoring three ABC LPs in total) and Gary Stevenson, produce a tight, 11-track song cycle that actually has more in common, thematically, with the last two ABC albums (‘97’s Skyscraping, ‘08’s Traffic) than The Lexicon of Love itself.
Now, make no mistake, this is ABC’s most orchestral-driven work since their debut; the arrangements are succulent and two songs into the LP (“The Flames of Desire,” “Viva Love”) ABC flaunts its melodic skill set unapologetically. However, as the listener winds their way through The Lexicon of Love II, the grooves simmer (see “Confessions of a Fool”), barely escalating to the salty snap of the debut it’s intending to mirror.
This is most likely intentional, as the emotional impetus of the record is not that same youthful urgency that powered cuts like “Poison Arrow” and “The Look of Love, Pt. 1” but an upwardly mobile melancholia that comes from developed reflection. So, sonically, the album follows the lyrical lead set forth―most of the songs are penned by Fry―and shines on entries such as the aforementioned “Singer Not the Song,” “Kiss Me Goodbye” and “Brighter Than the Sun.” If Skyscraping introduced a tempered Fry and Traffic had him revitalized, then The Lexicon of Love II portrays a Fry at the height of his powers, completing an unlikely arc of musical maturity years in the making.
Fry’s voice, still impeccable in its phrasing and tone, immediately brings him to stand alongside peers such as Simon Le Bon (of Duran Duran) and Tony Hadley (of Spandau Ballet) who’ve kept their instruments fine-tuned like Fry. Without Fry to charge something like the achingly beautiful “Ten Below Zero” (another ABC ballad masterstroke), then the song would just be an amazing track without a soul.
Fry, forever a gentleman, has endured an onslaught of nostalgia inquiries for years and managed to politely sidestep the worse pitfalls of that trap―while still giving a segment of ABC fans their fix. The Lexicon of Love II bridges two audiences: those with a flash frozen sound of ABC stuck in their ears and stalwarts who’ve journeyed with ABC along their evolutionary track. The real coup of The Lexicon of Love II is that it wins new listeners due to its self-awareness and ability to avoid stagnation―like previous ABC recordings before it.
For current information on The Lexicon of Love II and ABC, visit their official website.
Read the first part of “Many Happy Returns: ABC (The Band) in Focus, Part 1” here.