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Random thoughts about sound and vision.

Widescreen Emotion: remembering ABC's The Lexicon Of Love

1982 was a banner year for pop albums. Duran Duran's Rio, OMD's Architecture & Morality, Dexy's Midnight Runners' Too-Rye-Ay...and, arguably, the best of them all: ABC's The Lexicon Of Love. A collection of IMAX-sized tales of romance and heartbreak, love and loss...all gloriously arranged for band and orchestra. And deep in this sumptuous musical backdrop, there lurks singer Martin Fry's razor-sharp lyrics, dripping with regret and bitterness. Who broke his heart? You did, you did...


Much of Lexicon's cinematic sheen came courtesy of producer Trevor Horn. Horn began as a session musician in the '70s, working with the likes of Tina Charles. He then moved behind the mike and enjoyed pop success (Video Killed The Radio Star -  a number one) with The Buggles. It was his shift into music production, particularly his "perfect pop" work with boy/girl duo Dollar, that encouraged ABC to approach him about producing their debut album.

Lexicon is, in both look and sound, a defiantly theatrical record. From the very start - before the music even begins - the tone is set by Gered Mankowiz's glorious wraparound cover photograph: Fry striking a dramatic onstage pose, whilst the rest of the band watch on from the wings.  The instrumental opening track, Overture, is the album's equivalent to parting red velvet curtains. The stage is set. It's showtime...

The band appears, launching - appropriately - into Show Me. As well as a host of great album cuts, Lexicon Of Love is home to a succession of classic pop singles - Poison Arrow, The Look Of Love, All Of My Heart. As they rose up the charts, ABC - and particularly Martin Fry's gold lamé suit - became regular fixtures on Top Of The Pops.

In its relatively brief running time - just over 35 minutes - Lexicon doesn't put a foot wrong. It's grandiose but not excessive. It's epic, but it doesn't outstay its welcome. It's the orchestral sound of Lexicon Of Love that has been its greatest ally. What can in pop be cutting edge one minute, can swiftly sound dated the next. Lexicon still sounds as good as it did over thirty years ago.

Over the following years, ABC released several excellent albums, in a variety of musical styles. Closest to the lush, widescreen sound of Lexicon Of Love was 1987's Alphabet City.  With plenty of great songs - When Smokey Sings, The Night You Murdered Love, King Without A Crown - it's a terrific companion piece to Lexicon Of Love and highly recommended.

However, it's The Lexicon Of Love that has so far proved to be the band's critical and commercial highpoint. Since its debut thirty years ago, it's regularly listed in "Top 100 Albums Of All Time" polls. The album itself was recently performed in its entirity in London's West End, at the long-standing Theatre Royal Drury Lane; a perfect location to showcase one of pop's most theatrical - and enduring - albums.