2016 sequel to the 1982 debut album. The album's sound recalls the band's classic early hits with a modern twist. The lyrics deal with many of the same subjects as on the first album, although they are now sung from the point of view of a man three decades older and wiser. Lexicon Of Love II is an all-new album and does not feature re-recordings of songs from the original album.
Here and Now - Isle Of Man 2nd June 2002
(with Belinda Carlisle, Toyah, Curiosity Killed the Cat, T'Pau and China Crisis)
School Fields - Clapham Common, July 2002
(with Human League, Limahl and Modern Romance)
Martin Fry is working on the next album which is to be called Stravaganza.
He will work with strings again, arranged by David Arnold!
24 May 2000
A to Z
Did you know?
The song "7 Day Weekend" appeared on the European soundtrack, When Saturday Comes, and could probably considered as the first output from the new lineup, as it is credited to Martin Fry and Glenn Gregory. The film was released in late 1995.
Thanks to Jeff Toschlog.
Stranger Things Review
Currently in a veritable rash of activity with their first gig since 1983, this their first single in six years. Only Martin Fry remains of the original ABC, although now augmented by amongst others, his long-time Sheffield mucker Glenn Gregory on hire from Heaven 17. Happily, the boys seem to have largely abandoned the modish, unconvincing dance styles that were at the heart of their last releases. This time Fry claims that a return to his roots Bowie, soul, Pistols has engendered the new Skyscraping album but it's difficult to see any of those influences at work here. With its breezy, debonair sound and bright arpeggios, this is the ABC of When Smokey Sings and, if faintly ordinary, it could be similarly successful.
There's a dreamy, ethereal sound to this unmistakeably ABC offering, their first for five years. The Human League made a successful return; Martin Fry et al may find it harder.
(3 out of 5)
1 March 1997
The pleasantly swoonsome title track of ABC's return album. Summery vibes mix with Martin Fry's instantly recognisable vocal with rewarding results.
(4 out of 5)
26 April 1997
Not the best track from the Eighties icons' new album, but this sounds contemporary and radio friendly, rammed to the gills with Fry's swooning vocals and pomp. Fab.
(3 out of 5)
21 June 1997
Thanks to Josep from Spain
these pages are beginning to take great shape.
Thanks for the pictures on this page (from AtoZ fanzine) and bringing the history up to date.
ABC essentially started out as an electronic band called Vice Versa in early 1978. When they played support to The Human League in Sheffield in July 1978 they were reviewed in NME as "...a bizarro trio who show occasional flashes of promise, but whose pretentiousness becomes quite tiresome." In September 1979 they released an EP called "Vice Versa Music 4", the songs are "Riot Squad", "Camille", "New Girls/Neutrons" and "Science - Fact" and it came out on their own Neutron Records label. At this stage the members are Mark White, Stephen Singleton and David Sydenham. Martin Fry came onto the scene a couple of months later after interviewing the band for the magazine he was running called Modern Drugs, along with Mark and Stephen they formed ABC. Mark Lickley and David Palmer were added for the recording of their debut single "Tears Are Not Enough" which was also released on their label Neutron Records, the single entered the NME UK singles chart at 19 on 28/11/81. With the help of Trevor Horn and the London Symphony Orchestra they had further success with 3 chart topping singles off the debut album "The Lexicon of Love".
Lexicon, still widely regarded as a defining album for the time, immediately reached the UK number one spot and stayed there for four weeks. The album also proved to be sort of an albatross around ABC's neck because the further output of the group would always have to be compared to the initial successes. In late 1982 the group starts an exhausting world tour bringing the group across Europe, United States and Japan. Some of the group's live performance is caught in the Mantrap, video which is released at the end of 1983. The second ABC album Beauty Stab is released towards the end of 1983 and sees ABC make a brave change in direction. Instead of cashing in by using the Lexicon blueprint they radically change their style to a more guitar-oriented sound. To stress the new style, as opposed to the perfectionist Lexicon, the group attempts to record Beauty Stab as sort of a live-in-the-studio album. The end-result is a reasonably good album. The album is however lacking killer-singles and somewhat unfairly cracked by the as-always ultra-conservative British music press.
The third album How To Be A Zillionaire sees ABC go through a radically change of style again. The images are cartoonlike, the clothes extravagant, the sound a mixture of hip-hop and electro dance music. The group is highly succesfull in the United States, scoring a top-ten hit with Be Near Me and having two more huge dance hits with How To Be A Millionaire (aided by a well-crafted cartoon-video) and Vanity Kills. The public in Britain however, is not impressed.
In 1986 Martin Fry develops Hodgkins Disease, a form of cancer, and is close to death. He recovers however and at the end of the year he gets married and starts working on the fourth album Alphabet City . The release is preceded by two Bernard Edwards produced singles When Smokey Sings (A tribute to soul-veteran Smokey Robinson and a US top 5 hit) and The Night You Murdered Love. When the album is released it quickly becomes ABC's biggest success since Lexicon reaching number 7 in the UK album chart. The album sees ABC return to it's soul based roots and gets a good reception. For the 1989 Up , ABC catches up again with trend, this time house music which is quickly making its inroads into the UK. The album is fantastic, the groups skills are at their absolute peaks. Martin Fry's singing better than ever, penning some of his strongest lyrics while Mark White expresses himself in tunefull masterchords. Still the record bombs due to Phongram's unwillingness to promote the album in a proper way. ABC by then have already moved to another record company, Parlophone, and start working on their sixth studio album Abracadabra. They also contribute to albums by Lizzie Tear, Arthur Baker, Paul Rutherford and M People. Phonogram in the meantime releases a '90 remix of The Look Of Love, the groups biggest UK hit from 1982, which is heavily opposed to by ABC who even urge fans not to buy the remix which they describe as shoddy. Phonogram also releases a greatest hits album containing singles from the 81-89 period called Absolutely. The quality of that album is stunningly good, showing ABC at their supreme finest.
Abracadabra despite containing dancefloor favourites Love Conquers All and Say It (in a remix by Black Box) fails to make a big chart impact and the group is eventually dropped by Parlophone after having mastered a number of tracks that remain in the vaults. After the Abracadabra album Mark White has left the group leaving Martin Fry as the only original member. In 1996 Martin Fry teams up with guitarist Keith Lowndes and Heaven 17 singer Glenn Gregory and starts writing and recording a new album for the Deconstruction label. Early 1997 a new single is released, the pleasant Stranger Things and ABC even do a number of live shows culminating in a successfull performance at the London Shepherd's Bush Empire. The album Skyscraping is released in March and the title track is released as a second single of the album. In June ABC will do their first big tour since 1983!
To be continued...
Tears Are Not Enough / Alphabet Soup
#18 in UK (5/12/81)
Poison Arrow / Tears Are Not Enough
#5 in UK (27/3/82)
Poison Arrow (US Remix) / The Look of Love (US Remix)
The Look of Love / Theme From Mantrap
#4 in UK (12/6/82)
All of My Heart / Overture
#5 in UK (25/9/82)
Valentines Day / The Look of Love
That Was Then But This is Now / Vertigo
#12 in UK (19/11/83)
S.O.S. / United Kingdom
#40 in UK (4/2/84)
How To Be a Millionaire / Tower of London
#45 in UK (24/11/84)
How To Be a Zillionaire - Bond Street Mix
How To Be a Zillionaire - Nickelodian Mix
Be Near Me / A to Z
#19 in UK (20/4/85)
Ocean Blue / Tower Of London
#49 in UK (25/1/86)
Vanity Kills / Judy's Jewels
Vanity Kills - US version
When Smokey Sings / Chicago (pt 1)
#8 in UK (4/7/87)
The Night You Murdered Love / Minneapolis
#25 in UK (10/10/87)
King Without a Crown / The Look of Love (live)
#32 in UK (5/12/97)
The Look of Love (1990 mix)
One Better World / One Better World (percapella)
#30 in UK (10/6/89)
One Better World - Pickering Park Mix
The Real Thing / The Greatest Love Of All
Love Conquers All / What's Good About Goodbye
#37 in UK (3/9/91)
Say It (The Black Box Mix) / Say It (album version)
#38 in UK (18/1/92)
Stranger Things (live)
Release Date: 5-May-97
The Look Of Love (Live version)
All Of My Heart (Live version)
Release date: 30-June-97
The CD that was issued for Lexicon of Love back in 1993 (I talked about the new artwork in the last issue of Lexicon) was infact a re-mastered version from the original master tape! The initial version available in the US was from third or fourth generation. I listened to the the two and there is a noticable difference. I also listened to the US CD versus the new UK remastered version and the US sounds much better!
The Lexicon of Love
"Like a Dollar album, pretty damned naff really but packed with choice bits and fragments that are wunnerful by themselves." - Sounds
"His passion's for the song not the subject, the "Lexicon" not the "Love". According to my criteria, that's immortality forever out of reach. Fry will just have to settle for laudible brilliance." - Melody Maker
One of the greatest albums ever made...will be played to the point of nausea by everyone who buys it." - NME
Entered the top 20 at number 1 in the UK on 3rd July 1982 and spent 4 weeks there.
A fond memory of the early '80s: witnessing Martin Fry in all his gold- lame-suited splendor fronting a 16-piece (if memory serves) ensemble featuring an all-female string section (just like his idols, Chic), performing THE LEXICON OF LOVE in its entirety. Happily, the album (remarkably, ABC's debut) holds up magnificently, far superior to the Spandaus, Durans, Culture Clubs, Haircuts, and other artistic also-rans of the period. LEXICON attempted to create a classic romantic song cycle combining the sophisticated songsmithery of Smokey Robinson or Bacharach/David (not so different from what Eric Matthews is essaying today) with the classiest disco, which means only one thing in '80s Britpop circles - Chic, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards' influence suffuses this album - in the string and horn arrangements, the backing vocals, the throbbing bass lines, and it's all to the good. As is singer/composer/leader Fry's considerable verbal invention and melodic knack. The album is a seamless suite of love songs, running the gamut from starry-eyed devotion to betrayal. Memorable lyric excerpts abound (the "you did/stupid/Cupid" rhyme sequence in "Poison Arrow," that endearingly corny "They say, Martin, maybe one day you'll find true love" segment in "The Look Of Love," and this almost-too-clever-for-its- own-good verse in "4 Ever 2 Gether": "I stuck your last proposal/In the waste disposal/If that's the trash aesthetic/I suggest that we forget it"). Musical delights are equally abundant, with the marvelous hits "Poison Arrow" and "The Look Of Love" matched by "Show Me" and "Date Stamp" and exceeded by the exquisite "All Of My Heart." Fry can project the image of the quintessentially plummy Brit at times, but the dash and emotion of his vocal stance overcomes any lingering poseur vestiges. He and his bandmates can be proud - LEXICON is one for the ages. (4/5) - Ken Barnes
Q on the re-issue - Reviewed Apr 25, 1996
Review in The LEXICON Volume 3.
Lexicon stands as fine a debut as any by a new band, but it is also much more. This was the LP that gathered together all of their singles to that point and a few other tracks. And rather than simply slap together previously released tracks, Trevor Horn went into the studio with the band and a host of session players to rebuild the early singles and build up the new songs. At the time of release Martin Fry was very frank in saying that he and Trevor Horn had built up the album from nothing, layering on note upon note. This was no jam album. There was no band that had been playing in the bars for years. At the time the result was something that many people considered to be a freak, an album made rather than just recorded. In many ways this is why the album is such a milestone. ABC, a post punk pop band and not really an art band, stood up and said that it was okay to record pop songs painstakingly and over a period of many months. Not since Phil Specter ruled the pop airwaves had such a notion taken hold. Think back to the UK and even world pop at this time. The Clash, Adam Ant, and Joe Jackson were all throwing up pop that was "raw". ABC presented refined pop, sweeter than honey.
The album starts with the sound of strings, a basic element in this album that clearly breaks it away from most pop albums. Certainly strings had been used to great effect in many disco sides, but now rather than being simply accents they became the back bone. Joined with a hip-hop super funky base line and a back-beat-you-can't-lose-it, they open the album with "Show Me." "Poison Arrow" follows, the group's second single in the US and perhaps the group's best remembered song. This is classic ABC in all respects, with the disco bass and the tragic lyrics of love and remorse. The next song is "Many Happy Returns," which contains the great line "I know what democracy is and I know what's fascist!" Next up is what was actually ABC's first single, redone by Trevor Horn, "Tears Are Not Enough." It was the last single released off of this album in the US by Mercury. "Valentine's Day" is one of ABC's gems. A slight, almost throwaway song, it sinks in after a few listens. More great Fry lyrics inhabit the tail end of this song as well. It was released as a single in Japan.
Side two on the old vinyl starts with "The Look of Love (Part One)." "The Look Of Love (Part One)" was not their first single in the UK, but it was their introduction to the US. And while "Poison Arrow" has aged better in the minds of the US pop audience, "Look of Love" was actually the bigger hit (Peaking at number 18 on the Billboard chart in 10/82.) The great call and response chorus harks back to soul records from the 70's. The next track "Date Stamp" further reveals the group's fascination with material wealth (it was the 80's after all) first brought up in "Many Happy Returns." Lyrically clever, Fry closely links the always intertwined love and money. "All of My Heart" was a single in the UK and shopped to several music services in the US (like Muzak) but was never released in the US. Essentially the albums ballad. It is as fine a love song as the group has ever produced (even if everything turns out bad in the end.) Next, "4 Ever 2gether" is the album's weakest point. Not a bad song, and had it appeared on any other ABC album it might have been an album highlight, but compared to the rest of Lexicon of Love it just sort of sits there. Lastly is the tag of "Look of Love (Part 4)," the instrumental coda to the album. We would see this again with Trevor Horn's Buggles album Adventures in Modern Recording and on the first FGTH album. It was a neat way to tie up this classic record into a perfect pop package.
It should be noted that Lexicon was the only album in which the original ABC appeared. Shortly after its release in the US David Palmer, the drummer, left. He would later show up in Electronic and eventually settle into the band incarnation of The The (although he would come back and drum for Up.) Trevor Horn also would leave the band behind to start up his own label, Zang Tum Tum (ZTT.)
The album has been remarkably successful for one that didn't exactly top the US charts. It got only as high as #24 in November of 1982 in Billboard magazine compared to a #1 debut in the UK. It has since then sold over a half million copies in the US alone. The record was certified Gold in May of 1995 by the RIAA. According to Soundscan, the company that has tracked US record sales since 1991, the album has sold over 38,000 copies in the 90's alone. That means that the album has been selling an average of about 150 copies a week in the US during the past five years.
And it has aged well. NME in Britain named it the 15th best album of the 80's (off by at least 13 or 14 we think.) Q gave it five (out of five) stars when it was re-released in the UK last year. And while you may have trouble finding some other ABC albums on CD, this album has always been in every record store we've been to, right next to their greatest hits.
Lexicon of Love was a high that the band would never reach again for an entire album. It really marked the nadir of the New Romantic / Neo-Bowie movement in Britain. With in a year of it's release, full fledged UK pop like the Culture Club had moved in; pop that had no real new wave roots and certainly didn't cop much to Bowie. The style and suave-ness of this album (both in music and image) would soon give way to the new rock of Beauty Stab.
Lexicon has seen several versions released, although none, save the most recent, have any major differences among them. The first version was, of course, the vinyl version. Released with cassette at the same time, the LP highlights the really nice, well thought out artwork, whose impact is lost on subsequent CD releases. Next up was the first US release, on Mercury, of the CD. It is noted mainly by it's plain font spine and plain font song listing on the back. This version, released early in the CD game, was made in Germany. The CD itself has the Neutron logo around the center. The rest is a red Mercury logo. Later (not sure when), Mercury released a US made version of the CD and changed a few things. The spine now has the ABC style font and the back does as well. Gone is the listing of the publishers and instead of saying "except 9 written by ABC / Anne Dudley" it now says "except 4 ever 2 gether written by ABC / Ann Dudley." No telling where the "e" went. The CD itself does not have the Neutron log but does have the ABC style font on it. Last year Polygram UK re-released the CD with six extra tracks (see last issue).
"ABC have become U2 with a Nelson Riddle production. A sickeningly smug revelation of over-30's rock, glossed over with a thin veneer of big band sound." - Sounds
"Boy George has more soul in his little finger than Martin Fry's entire, awkward body." - Melody Maker
"Get off the picket line, boys, and get back to the boudoir or the ballroom." - NME
"Beauty Stab may be one of the few really excellent albums of '83, a year of great singles and lesser LPs. With seven sure kills out of eleven songs, this one could have a surprisingly long shelf life." - Musician
How to be a Zillionaire
"There's no need to compare this LP with The Lexicon Of Love, Zillionaire may not be as lush as dramatic but it's rather fab all the same. (8 out of 10)." - Smash Hits
"Zillionaire sees ABC in a surprisingly strong shape. Their own funky dance style remains but they've left out the strings to make the overall impact stronger." - Hitkrant
"Alphabet City is full of lush orchestrated tunes and brilliantly corny words even if it's not quite as good as their first LP. One song however, King Without A Cown, is a work of quite unbelievable brilliance and is quite possibly the best record ever made." - Smash Hits
"Alphabet City is supreme quality. Martin Fry has grown as a lyricist and singer while Mark White produces imaginative guitarplay." - United Dutch Press
"Up comes very close to the quality of The Lexicon Of Love. Fry and White return to the dancefloor with endearing songs and skilful arrangements." - United Dutch Press
"Up is a dance record with draught and definitely the best ABC since Lexicon Of Love." - OOR
"Up is ABC's fifth LP, a heaven sent shock of helium-high pop that hovers through the House Palace, with songs as enhanced disco decorations that you can gawp at in the bedroom or groove to in the dancehall." - Melody Maker
In which that proud owner of an Eng. Lit. degree from Sheffield University, Martin Fry, sinks further into ABC's dancefloor megamix. And no bad thing. But for "Paper Thin," "The Real Thing" and the homesick "North," the club action isn't impeded by over-complicated parodies of the pop song form as habitually delivered in Fry's overwrought croon. The sizzling "One Better World" exemplifies the new, improved ABC: a plea for caring, sharing awareness such as may be heard on nearly every club hit these last few months, its real cleverness resides in an arrangement which sustains a simple jazz-funk piano riff for as long as your shoe-leather holds out. Nagging yet evocative, ABC stake one foot in the Pet Shop Boys/New Order corner and the other in modern US club R&B. Credit surely goes to ABC's quiet other half, musician Mark White, who has fashioned out of seeming "formula" music, a gem. (4/5) - Mat Snow
Q Issue #38 (November 1989)
"This Must Be Magic, Say It and Love Conquers All are fast and enjoyable songs, but afew slower songs could have been more interesting. A partly successful dance party." - OOR
"ABC returns to form with Abracadabra, gliding through a lush set of R & B flavoured housers that White likens to Cole Porter on acid. Fry's theatrical vocals transform melodramatic odes like Inlock The Secrets Of Your Heart and Spellbound into believable anthems. Meanwhile, the possibilities for club play are nearly bottomless. Abracadabra is groove-conscious without sacrificing the traditional song structure. First programming priorities should be Say It and Answered Prayer with its deep-baked bass line and caressing strings. Delicious. (From Billboard)
Ten years on from their Top 20 glamourpop debut single "Tears Are Not Enough," Sheffield's Martin Fry and Mark White are into their sixth studio album and second major label.
Shot into the brightest part of the firmament by the critical and commercial success of their debut, the Trevor Horn produced THE LEXICON OF LOVE, replete with star singles like "Poison Arrow," "The Look Of Love" and "All Of My Heart," ABC were ominously swift to haul themselves down to earth with a bump. 1983's abrasive Beauty Stab perplexed fans and critics alike, and merely paved the way for 1985's mediocre HOW TO BE A ZILLIONAIRE.
Two years later, a return to their polished pop roots on Alphabet City brought resurgence and rehabilitation soon after Fry himself won his own personal battle with cancer. By 1989, and with relations between the duo and then label Phonogram deteriorating, ABC seemed content to work out their contract with Up, a filler LP of club grooves. It was unremarkable but for the pacy single One Better World. Ironically with last year's gold-selling singles collection, Absolutely, Phonogram did their former charges a favour, putting ABC back into the limelight with a stirring reminder of their most glittering moments. With ABRACADABRA, that's a favour of which Fry and White have conspicuously failed to take advantage. Openly plundering the archetypal late '70s/early '80s disco sound that THE LEXICON OF LOVE so brilliantly parodied, ABRACADABRA is far from a return to ABC's former classic style. The gift for gorgeous melody that could still make 1987's When Smokey Sings such irresistible additions to the chart is notably absent. In its place, the liberal resort to lush Philly-style strings, bubbling bass beats and tingling, Steely Dan-style guitar picking adds up to little more than surface sheen. Meanwhile, while retaining his ability to turn a cute phrase, Fry's unremarkable vocal range and power seems to have grown even more restricted.
The perky "All That Matters" and "A Prayer" still hint at former successes, the former opening with particularly tuneful confidence before the LP's all-pervading aimlessness and the constant inability of producer Dave Bascombe (Tears For Fears) to create any kind of dynamic conspire to overcome its best intentions. Elsewhere, inspirational echoes get too close for comfort, with the rhythm track for This Must Be Magic following Change's 1980 classic Searchin' so completely that Fry's vocal melody is drowned by the memory. Ultimately ABRACADABRA is an album that suffers badly by comparison: with former glories; with the memorable originals that too many songs too closely echo, and, perhaps most damningly, with more modern contemporaries like Deee-Lite for whom the ABC's original cartoon, clubland posing was such an inspiration. (2/5) - David Roberts
Q Issue #60 (September 1991)
Martin Fry's problem is always going to be topping Lexicon Of Love and, while they fail again, this is a pretty reasonable stab. All the ABC motifs are present in a dated, but naggingly familiar collection.
(3 out of 5)
15 March 1997
Floppy-fringed pop messiah Martin Fry bounds back from a six-year absence with an album that picks up the spangled threads of ABC's unfinished career. The fruitily epic and utterly gorgeous pop whirls of Stranger Things, Skyscraping, Who Can I Turn To and Love Is Its Own Reward continue to trace the jetstream left by Poison Arrow, Look Of Love, When Smokey Sings, All Of My Heart and a suitcase of shimmering Sheffield pop nuggets -- Fry still capable of timeless pop couplets ('Look into my eyes baby, it's such a spectacular view') with an engaging, irony-drenched mixture of gushing simplicity and knowing wit. A rarity amongst comebacks, Skyscraping is not a disaster. (4/5).
After a five-year hiatus Martin Fry's back with a new copy of Bowie's 'Young Americans' and protesting rediscovered passion. Rare in this kind of comeback, more than half the time it sounds like he means it. Still in command of a turn of phrase that cheerfully rhymes "Aphrodite" with "Cupid and Psyche", retreads of former glories verging on sessioneering are augmented by strange stuff the ABC of old wouldn't have touched with a barge pole. Grizzled but still debonair despite the lows ("... Such an ugly business/ In and out of fashion..."), Fry's return shows an appreciation of saucy '70's pop values that you don't get from buying a Lewis Collins leather jacket and a Faces best-of. (3/5).
In the '80s, greed was good and pop music was defiantly upwardly mobile. But the '90s can be cruel and Fry's idea of a renaissance look distinctly of a certain age and time. For all the buzzing synthesizers and electronic approximations of pop-rock (Roxy Music is a big influence, apparently), Skyscraping is too grand to inspire emotion. (5/10).
You can't help but have a sneaking affection for Martin Fry. He was, after all, the inspired dreamer who made 'Lexicon Of Love', one of the great pop records of the '80s - a lush, lovingly stylised realisation and celebration of what a pop group and a pop record could be. Since then, he's stubbornly refused to give up on trying to progress from perfection. And so, 15 underachieving years on, ABC (for, now Mark White has left, it's just Fry) seem almost to have come full circle. Unfortunately, it's full circle back to the '80s.
On the sleeve of this record, our Martin is pictured in a dynamic action shot, climbing a seemingly endless flight of steps up to the azure skies of the future, impeccable in a white designer suit and orange shirt, that lemon-meringue fringe somehow classic, unaffected by the years. Inside, we find him staring out at pies in the sky amid a technocratic futurescape that could only have come from a hi-fi systems catalogue from 1983. What can it all mean? But we call off the fashion-police dogs when we hear the two vintage soul-pop tracks on this record - current single 'Stranger Things' has the old string-swept romance and elegance of old, albeit with a tinge of nostalgic regret. Then, when you hear the echo of Smokey singing, holding you tight while crooning dewy-eyed to the stars on 'Skyscraping', you're tempted to believe that this is timeless music by a timeless group. Then you realise why Glenn Gregory is credited as co-writer and producer of this record, as 'Ask A Thousand Times' and 'Rolling Sevens' sound like Heaven 17's over-inflated arse.
Thenceforth, we never really regain those early highs, as Martin appears more interested in engaging, but hollow-sounding pastiches of Roxy Music circa 1973 ('Only The Best Will Do', 'Love Is Its Own Reward'), presumably to relive his own passions of youth rather than actually writing the kind of memorable and romantically-charged tunes he once had a patent on. Skyscraping? Alas, more like barrel-scraping. (5/10)
A to Z
There's an old theory in the music industry which has it that an artist shouldn't listen to other music when making an album 'cause it would influence the recording too much. Martin Fry obviously took the time to sit back and listen to a lot of the stuff he grew up with (Roxy, Bowie, Pistols, Bolan etc.) in the previous year and as a result of this the brand new ABC album, their first in six years, sounds more retrospective than ever.
It does sound different from the old ABC and the departure of Mark White could well be a reason for this. The new people Glenn Gregory (giving an electro Heaven 17 flavour to some of the songs) and Keith Lowndes (bringing in stylish seventies guitar riffs and solos and contemporary drum patterns) obviously bring in less dance influences than White and ABC drain themselves in 70s song structures, guitar and saxophone parts. Those influences are most prominent on 'Only The Best Will Do' which almost sound like a Roxy song and 'Love Is It's Own Reward' which is Pistolesque. Best example of the reduced dancefloor claims (despite being signed to British dance label Deconstruction) is 'Seven Day Weekend'. This song was originally recorded as a duet between Gregory and Fry and sound less modern and danceable a year later when Fry takes care of all the lead vocals and Lowndes does the guitars.
The new stuff is quite good though and in good ABC tradition it's a little different from all their previous albums. It's very energetic and you can tell from listening to it that the musicians were really enjoying what they were doing when writing and recording the stuff. The title track of the album is quite probably the ultimate ABC track: uplifting, intelligent, romantic, original, clever lyrics and strong vocals, it is definitely one of their best tracks ever. This is ABC at their supreme finest. Another traditional ABC song is the romantic Philly soultrack 'Who Can I Turn To'. Other glorious moments include 'Rolling Sevens' (fabulous guitar riff and scintillating backing vocals by Carol Kenyon), the majestuous 'Light Years' and the strong 'Ask A Thousand Times'.
Skyscraping means a step in the right direction and let's hope Martin Fry will be able to come up with a follow up to this one within about a year and a half and focus on the future instead of the past. If he manages to do that ABC would really be skyscraping! At least he has provided us with the ultimate ABC anthem in the form of the tremendous title track and this album will bring you a lot of pleasure and enjoyment in the meantime. (8,5 out of 10)
ABC "Stranger Things", Skyscraping Album Sampler (DeConstrcution)
Martin Fry is back from the 80's graveyard and doesn't look too shabby either. The first single from the forthcoming Skyscraping is "Stranger Things." A curious choice, not the strongest track in the ABC catalog, not even off the album. Still a solid, very pleasant track. The single also offers an "acoustic" workout that highlights the strings. More promising are two non-album b-sides, "The World Spins On" and "All We Need." Both show a stylistic development for ABC into a Neo Roxy Music sound. Fry's lyrics are still top notch ("tomorrow's twisted smile") and the sound is still as smooth a silk and lush as triple fudge.
Much more satisfying is the album sampler from deConstruction. It highlights five songs, including the single. The title track can stand next to anything the band has done post Lexicon and in some ways exceeds it. Fry has been liberated (by the absence of Mark White?) from the dance beat and the result is pure joy in the melodies. "Ask A Thousand Times" sounds like Fry re-visiting the Beauty Stab sound and getting it right (or are we just ready for it now?) "Only The Best Will Do" leans a little heavily on Bowie, but is still a winning track. The last one, the yearning and elegant "Who Can I Turn To?," sounds like a matured "Ocean Blue."
Over all, it sounds very promising for the upcoming album. Glen Gregory, while present, does not overwhelm anything. It seems like he was more a "spice" than the main ingredient. Oh yeah, and the cover shot of the sampler is classic! It is a photo of Martin in a gray suit, seen from the back. Over his shoulder on a hanger - a gold lame suit.
David Richard - The LEXICON
File alphabetically under Z. Skyscraping sees ABC return to 1985 for the inspiration to their latest album and provides us with some of their best material since that era. Every album they make changes direction to some degree, but this one has it's heart firmly in the Zillionaire period. Supported by humming synths, pumping saxophones, toy pianos and short sharp lyrics, ABC rediscover luxury, romance and the big beat. Keith Lowndes proves a worthy successor to Mr Mark White, bringing an authentic 'ABC' sound to the proceedings, so familiar in fact, that I'd be surprised if they hadn't been sampling stuff from their back catalogue. As you'd expect from an ABC album, it seeks out new territory too, and this time the strings and zip guitars are accompanied by unplugged acoustic overtones. Some of the little touches are notable by their absence - Martin croons where once he'd just speak, the bridges that became familiar at the end of each song have gone and the wordplay isn't quite as inventive. If it falls short of being their best so far, it still improves upon the last three albums and Skyscraping stands out on its own as a fine collection of songs, original as it is familiar. Sadly, the biggest downfall is the lack of publicity it is having, (was a video shot for Stranger things?) and with such little airplay it is destined to become one of those overlooked classics like Beauty Stab. 7/10
*Thanks to Paul for supplying the Q reviews.
The best tunes: Ask a Thousand Times, Only the Best will Do, Love is it's own Reward, Seven Day Weekend, Light Years, and the title tune are indeed reminiscent of Beauty Stab, a comparison I am pleased to make, because I feel that this is the great underdog of their output.
The production is odd with the synth seasonings of Glenn Gregory, although I wish that the arrangements allowed for a bit more jamming with the sax and guitars.
Compilations and Videos
In 1991 Nippon Phonogram Company LTD of Tokyo and Mercury Records released a box set series in Japan of various artists like Tear For Fears and ABC. The ABC set was called "Fantastic Compositions". This is really a nice set that pulls together several albums and many album tracks, remixes and rare live tracks. It's beautifully bound in a heavy cardboard box with the dimensions of a CD (not the newer "book" style now popular in the U.S.). It also has a nice booklet that has lyrics, track listings and photos. The only major faults with this set is the lack of original cover art work (all the CD covers are the same: a "King Without a Crown" 12" photo of Fry and White) and the lengthy article on the band in the booklet is in Japanese! The other aspect of this set is that is seems at first glance to have the full albums from Lexicon to Up, however, as you can tell by the track listing, only Lexicon and Beauty Stab are complete.
From The LEXICON.
Lexicon of Love (entire Album)
- Beauty Stab (entire Album)
- Fear of the World
- Be Near Me
- Vanity Kills
- How To Be A Zillionaire
- Tower of London
- So Hip It Hurts
- When Smokey Sings
- The Night You Murdered Love
- Rage and Then Regret
- King With Out a Crown
- Jealous Lover
- Never More Than Now
- The Real Thing
- One Better World
- Where Is The Heaven
- The Greatest Love of All
- I'm In Love With You)
- Look of Love 1990
- Be Near Me (Munich Disco Mix)
- How To Be A Millionaire (Bond St. Mix)
- Vanity Kills (Abigail's Party Mix)
- When Smoky Sings (Detroit Mix)
- King With Out a Crown (Monarchy Mix)
- The Night You Murdered Love (Sheer Chic Mix)
- One Better World (Pickering Park Mix)
- The Greatest Love Of All (Kraushaar Mix)
- Never More Than Now (Kraushaar Mix)
- Look Of Love (live in Boston 1992)
- Poison Arrow (live in Boston 1992)
1980 Martin Fry, Mark White, Stephen Sinleton, David Robinson, Mark Lickley.
Output: Tears Are Not Enough
1981 Martin Fry, Mark White, Stephen Singleton, David Palmer, Mark Lickley.
Output: Poison Arrow and The Look Of Love.
Palmer replaced Robinson on drums.
1982 Martin Fry, Mark White, Stephen Singleton, David Palmer.
Output: The Lexicon Of Love.
Mark Lickley had left the group before recording the debut album.
1983 Martin Fry, Mark White, Stephen Singleton.
Output: Beauty Stab.
David Plamer had left the group after the world tour joining Yellow Magic Orchestra
1984 Martin Fry, Mark White, Eden, David Yarritu.
Eden and David Yarritu were added not because they could play or sing (in fact they didn't) but to make ABC look like a group.
1986 Martin Fry, Mark White, David Palmer.
Output: Ocean Blue.
1987 Martin Fry and Mark White.
Output: Alphabet City.
1991 Martin Fry and Mark White
(Session musicians - Tony Patler, Gota, Phil Manzanera, Derek Green, Franke M. Howard, Beverly Skeete, Gina Foster, Zeitia Massiah, Paul A. Lee, Don Campbell, Cleveland Watkiss, Steve Sidelnyk, Matt Rowe, Phil Smith, Marius de Vries).
1997 Martin Fry, Glenn Gregory and Keith Lowndes
Weight: 11 St.
Birth date: 9/3/58
Birthplace: Manchester, England
Ambition: To fall in love forever
Turn-ons: The B-52's, Esquire, The Man From Uncle, The Look of Love, swimming underwater
Favourite food: Boil in the bag
Preferred performers: George Best, Sebastian Coe, Sugar Ray Leonard
All time favourite song: Just My Imagination (Temptations)
Favourite pastime: Crooning
Best films: The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle
Favourite reading matter: Max Frisch, Tom Wolfe, Grasse
Favourite outfit: The Harlem Globetrotters
Perfect evening: A night in an igloo with a flame thrower
Desert island companion: The complete works of Shakespeare
Best and worst characteristics: My record collection
Like to be reincarnated as: Martin Fry 2nd
Secret: I daren't tell you
Images kindly supplied by:
BBC2's That Was Then... (1989)
The Lenny Henry Show - performing 15 Storey Halo (1986)
Channel 4's Star Test (1989)
"From gold lame suits and new pop with an entryist smile ('Lexicon of Love' in '82) right up to optomistic house ('Up' in '89), ABC have attempted to purvey stylish dance music that knows where it's coming from. Most of the press interest, however, has revolved around their failure to consolidate on the success of 'Lexicon of Love'. The perrenial runners up of British pop".
A Decade of i-Deas - i-D magazine 1990.
He collects all things ABC and would like to hear from you!
He also sent me heaps of scans for the discography - Thanks.
Special thanks to Melvin Welters, Thorsten Blankertz and Paul Desmond for their help with this page.