ABC: BEAUTY STAB (1983)
1) That Was Then But This Is Now; 2) Love's A Dangerous Language; 3) If I Ever Thought You'd Be Lonely; 4) Power Of Persuasion; 5) Beauty Stab; 6) By Default By Design; 7) Hey Citizen!; 8) King Money; 9) Bite The Hand; 10) Unzip; 11) S.O.S.; 12) United Kingdom.
A classic case of «sophomore slump». Or, perhaps, not so classic. Normally, «disastrous second time» usually means that the band had spent a lot of time polishing their act and practicing their art of songwriting, then unloading its full potential with the debut record — and then finding out, much to their surprise, that they have to make a second LP already the next year, without having the time or the strength to write some equally good material.
Beauty Stab suffers from a different problem. The songwriting is pretty much at the same level: handy-dandy guy Martin Fry and his friends are churning out brisky New Wave anthems at a very regular rate. However, the Horn/Dudley production team was already busy establishing itself as The Art Of Noise; only Gary Langan was left behind to help them put out the record, and it does not look as if he cared all that much about arrangement flourishes.
Also, there seems to have been more emphasis on coming across as a «rock» band this time. To that end, the band cuts down on the keyboards (a bit) and compensates in the way of guitars (a lot). Were they funky guitars, like the way they sound on Lexicon Of Love, it would have been one thing; but, clearly, they felt some sort of need to distance themselves from formulaic dance rhythms (maybe they'd just caught on to the idea that disco sucks), and they are mostly «hard rock guitars», of the ugly, over-processed, Eighties kind. Expectedly, the more they strive towards «authenticity», the more fake it all sounds.
The public never went wild over this «anti-dance stance» foolishly taken up by ABC in the year of 'Flashdance... What A Feeling', and from there onwards the band's commercial and critical reputation never truly recovered (although both did go one notch up with their next record). Still, the songs are mostly decent. ABC's powers of hook-making still rate highly: the post-pause sax riff of 'That Was Then But This Is Now' gives the song a stern, crunchy, decisive character that agrees well with its title; 'Unzip' is a delightfully sleazy call for sexual liberation ("she's vegetarian except when it comes to sex" is one hell of an immortal line), with its mesmerizing bassline and endless background mantraic repetition of the chorus almost work as a subconscious call to lose your virginity (and many did, I bet); and the same bass also transforms 'If I Ever Thought You'd Be Lonely' from a boring ballad into a little bit of a musical thriller.
Best of the bunch may be 'Bite The Hand', which sounds like a near-perfect cross between the style of Lexicon and this newly established «synth-rock» idiom: starting out with disco-style orchestration and syncopated bass, it eventually adds near-Sabbath heavy metal guitar which flows in and out of the ravaging instrumentation, and does so quite harmoniously. 'Bite The Hand' is a «socially conscious» song, as are many others on here — perhaps Fry got sick of all the Bryan Ferry comparisons and intentionally decided to move into territory that Bryan would never touch with a ten-foot pole. Not that it matters, though: atmospherically, the «ominous» in his socially relevant songs is undistinguishable from the «ominous» in his love tunes, and 'Bite The Hand' could just as easily be about a bitchy vamp as it is about the upcoming apocalypse.
Thumbs up for the songwriting; but if Lexicon Of Love has dated like a vintage Charlie Chaplin movie, Beauty Stab is more like some third-rate Douglas Fairbanks picture — still entertaining, amusing, and pleasing if you really feel like it, but not worth hunting for unless you have a strong penchant for Ferry/Fry-style personalities.
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