ALBUM (1982)

ABC's album paved the way for Frankie and new pop

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 September, 2012, 9:44am

The Lexicon of Love



While the rest of the world indulged their 1980s pop whims in gaudy day-glo clothes, power-shoulder suits and embarrassing radio pop courtesy of the big American music labels, the decade that style forgot was busily producing yet another musical revolution in Britain.

Synth pop, new pop - call it what you will - was emerging from the embers of punk, a lavishly retooled pop that took punk's DIY and back-to-basics ethics and welded it to sophisticated 1960s soul and lounge jazz.

The movement saw its peak in the mid-'80s output of ZTT Records, with the likes of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, who bestrode the decade like titans, notching up three consecutive chart toppers, which also managed to break more sexual taboos than Madonna's entire oeuvre.

But before they could do that, ABC had to happen.

Formerly a dour post-punk electronic outfit called Vice Versa the band turned a corner when it enlisted music writer Martin Fry, who gradually began introducing Motown influences to their music. It didn't take long before they were spotted by Trevor Horn.

Until then Horn was known only as the bloke with the big glasses from The Buggles, whose 1979 novelty hit Video Killed the Radio Star presaged MTV and eventually became the first promo clip shown on the channel's debut.

Horn had a dream of channelling the rowdy energy punk had instilled in a new generation of pop fans. The initial fruit of Horn's labours was Tears Are Not Enough, a single that foreshadowed Lexicon of Love, ABC's debut. That the album became one of the 80s' seminal recordings was down in large part to the grandeur and cinematic pathos of the next single, Poison Arrow.

Horn took the demo's synths and replaced them with full-bodied brass, real strings and lashings of '60s groove. The song went top 10 in Britain and Australia, and flew into the US charts at 25. The track was all the more memorable for its promotional clip, shot by the emerging pop-video industry's enfant terrible, Julien Temple. Wearing a gold lame suit that would become his trademark, frontman Fry plays opera audience member, bandleader and an impresario in a clip drenched in camp madness that typified the overwrought early days of British pop videos.

ABC might not have been able to emulate their initial success, but Horn capitalised on the album's enormous popularity.

With his team of technicians and musicians, which formed their own house band Art of Noise, ZTT went on to become one of the most successful indie labels to gush through the post-punk floodgates.

Frankie Goes to Hollywood aside, Horn's perfectionist take on production led to hits by German popsters Propaganda, 808 State and, of course, Art of Noise.

Charlie Carter