Throughout my life there have always been special albums – those records that reflect, absorb, process and refine whatever emotional state I happened to be in at the time. Once such, appearing in 1982, was ABC’s The Lexicon Of Love.
I first heard this record when I was living in a miserable bedsit in Bristol with my first wife, already beginning to sense that things were not going to work out with that particular relationship (but finding myself unable to do anything about it for some years to come). A vivacious medical student friend whose name I forget brought it over and we played it as a group on my stereo which happened to the best one available to us.
I was knocked out by it, liking it immediately, and it became established as a favorite. It has continued to be so, if anything increasing in value over the years. Part of this is undoubtedly due to the very skillful production, arrangements and witty songwriting. But I have many such other records that have failed to make a similar impact. Where The Lexicon Of Love scores is in its heart – a rather deep heart that, on the surface, goes against the bright sheen of the record with its glossy Brit-soul/funk and Martin Fry’s mannered vocals. Contrived it may be, but there is something more at work here, giving this record a soulfulness that is quite different from American soul music even as it draws it inspiration directly from it.
The true antecedents of this sound lie in the explorations of the British band Roxy Music throughout the 1970s. Roxy Music are going to become, if they are not already so, one of the most important rock bands in the history of the music because they were the first musicians to successfully meld glam, progressive and 1970s soul influences into a coherent European form of dance/soul music. Almost single handedly, Roxy Music laid the groundwork for the European dance music that coalesced in the 1980s and has continued to thrive, with ups and downs, to this day.
ABC were an early manifestion of this burgeoning style, and The Lexicon Of Love deserves to be considered in specifically English terms (certainly the lyrics make no concession to Americanisms) and the record is best appreciated in the knowledge of the social and political climate that dominated the United Kingdom in the early 1980s – Thatcherism, high unemployment and shattered hopes for many young people. Hence the underlying cynicism and weariness that characterizes much the lyrical content, and the very careful arrangements that suggest both excitement and ennui at the same time. A Roxy Music speciality this, and no easy accomplishment.
ABC would make a much more overtly political record with Beauty Stab, a glorious mistake that squandered their strengths (but was scarcely the disaster that critical reputation has given it), but the message is quite clear in their first record. Lexicon questions the basic assumptions not only of society but also those of the individual living in it. Such a personal message was – and is – very compelling to anyone, such as myself, who was coming to terms with the collapse of dreams and hopes. As such it secured a place in my heart.