Sunday, February 1, 2009

The best Valentine's Day album of all time

This is a review I originally wrote for; but - as NBC used to say - "if you've never seen it before it's new to you!"

ABC's the Lexicon of Love is the ultimate Valentine's Day album: a pop masterpiece, and a thinking man's disco party. That man is lead singer Martin Fry: a silver-tongued devil in a gold lame suit.

At first blush, the thing that stands out is Trevor Horn's production. Xylophones, glockenspiels, synths, a string section, cash registers, and probably a couple of kitchen sinks, are the order of the day.

The production is probably what got ABC (mistakenly) lumped in with Spandau Ballet and Wang Chung back in the day, which was maybe part of the joke. Fry's bitchy Vegas-singer-with-a-brain shtick points to satire, but it says something about the quality of the writing that these songs also pack an emotional wallop.

What makes this album so great for me is Fry's witty, sarcastic, and self-aware lyrics. "More puns and allusions than Elvis Costello had managed in a career," says Spin Magazine in its Alternative Record Guide.

ABC's 10 commandments of love:

Here's all the proof you need that lyrics really do matter:

1. "If you judge a book by its cover/then you judge the look by the lover."

2. "Look but don't touch in paradise/Don't let them catch you damaging the merchandise."

3. "Everything is temporary, written on that stand/Looking for the girl who meets supply with demand."

4. "I stuck a marriage proposal in the waste disposal."

5. "No I won't be told, there's a crock of gold/at the end of the rainbow. All the pleasure and pain, sunshine and rain/might make this love grow."

6. "Skip the hearts and flowers, skip the ivory towers."

7. "I get sales talk from sales assistants/When all I want to do, girl, is lower your resistance."

8. "When she's gone all I've got to learn/is the law of diminishing returns."

9. "The 12 disciples might kiss and tell/But you can tell me much more than they can."

10. "Then I say I love you, foul the situation/Hey, girl, I thought we were the right combination."

The big hits here are the Look of Love and Poison Arrow, great songs both, but for my money the overblown orchestrations of All of My Heart, the happy ca-ching of the cash registers on Date Stamp, the opening fanfare of Show Me, and the Mr. Roboto intro ("Evil!") on 4 Ever 2 Gether make these tracks the standouts.

ABC has never had an album as good as this one, but you should check out Be Near Me, Between You and Me, Ocean Blue, How to be a Millionaire, and 15-Storey Halo (on the underrated How to be a Zillionaire), When Smokey Sings (the band's tribute to Smokey Robinson from Alphabet City), and That Was Then, but This is Now (from the otherwise awful Beauty Stab).

For the best Valentine's Day shuffle playlist, I also recommend the Divine Comedy's Casanova and the Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs. Because the tastiest sweethearts are sour on the inside...

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