Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Lost Gem of the 80s #7: ABC - "The Lexicon Of Love" (1982)

“Pop, for lack of a better word, is good. Pop is right, Pop works. Pop clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.”

Gordon Gekko – “Wall Street”

Pop is a beautiful word. It should refer to the highest art that is accepted by the most people, not the lowest common denominator. Warhol would agree with me. It’s an especially good omen when it’s attached to music, such as “Power Pop”, which would refer to songs like “What I Like About You” by the Romantics, or “Surrender” by Cheap Trick. It’s the meat and potatoes. Three chords, passion, ferocity, simplicity, eternally catchy.

Straight up Pop would be stuff like “Baby One More Time” by Britney or “I Want It That Way” by Backstreet Boys. It’s mathematical. Code and formulas are typed into a computer and these songs are spit out. They are the realizations of reams of scientific and sociological data. You’re supposed to like them because your bio-rhythm tells you so. You can fight it all you want, and tell yourself it doesn’t have merit, but a lot of research went into the creation of that song and it’s smarter than you are.

Then, we have Perfect Pop. Music that is so pristine and flawlessly produced that it belongs under glass in a museum. That’s where Lexicon lands. It’s one of the most perfect albums ever made. Catchy songs, glossy productions, exquisite sound.

You know some of the songs. “Poison Arrow”, “The Look of Love”, maybe even “Tears Are Not Enough” (so funky!), and “All of My Heart” (so sweet!) and you probably liked them, but now see them as part of an era that’s come and gone. You shouldn’t. It’s time capsule stuff. And, perfection stands the test of time. Time doesn’t render something imperfect.

Most of the sheen is due to Trevor Horn, the producer. He was the lead singer of the Buggles (“Video Killed the Radio Star”) and went into producing, spawning some of the most commercially successful and audibly lush albums of the next 10 years. The list includes albums like Frankie Goes To Hollywood Welcome To the Pleasuredome, Yes90125, Seal Seal (1991), as well as collaborations with Simple Minds, Marc Almond and Pet Shop Boys. All were smashes. Some, in fact, would never achieve that level of success again without him. He also started a group called Art Of Noise you may know with some like-minded artists. They had a few hits. One of them, Anne Dudley, went on to win an Oscar for the score to the Full Monty. She scores the orchestral flourishes on Lexicon as well. When Horn takes over a project, he’s obsessive.

ABC lead singer and fashion magnate, Martin Fry, is best remembered today for his gold suit, but his incredible voice and pop craft should never be ignored. ABC was one of the best singles band of the era with additional hits like “Be Near Me” and “When Smokey Sings”. They went on to lose their mojo, like so many others, so Lexicon serves as the lasting testament to each contributor’s creative peak. Even the songs you don’t know are perfect and, maybe, better than the singles. Just listen to the globetrotting, James Bondian swerve of “Valentine’s Day” (especially what Dudley does with the swirling synth/string build during each verse. Name another song that would pull that off so readily).

While being ULTRA (all caps) sophisticated, it will also move your booty. “Many Happy Returns” starts off kind of awkwardly, like a room of wallflowers, but kicks into the groove in a few seconds and the room is bumping. And “Tears Are Not Enough” would have gotten the place sweaty in the post-disco era of the early 80s.

Most people hold Lexicon in high praise, but those people are usually critics, or British. The regular Joe on the street probably has no idea what a benchmark album it was, nor the level of craft included. At least get yourself an ABC best of. Twelve or so of the finest singles “Pop” has to offer. You’ll thank yourself. And, don’t forget to tell yourself, “Pop is good!”

The Nugget – “All of My Heart”. Tough call, mine changes every time I hear it. Lately, I’ve been really digging on "Valentine’s Day", but the track that may get the layman to sit up and pay attention is this one. I think it's one of the greatest love songs ever written because it's so sophisticated and without sap.

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