ABC: HOW TO BE A ZILLIONAIRE (1985)
One thing you cannot deny about early ABC is that these guys never intended to settle on a formula. Lexicon Of Love was unrepeatable anyway, and Beauty Stab did not work well enough to establish them as a rock band with synthesizers; thus, on their third album they threw away all of the «rock» elements — together with half of the band members — but kept the synthesizers in order to try out a new image, that of a trans-hip, meta-pop team that would subtly ridicule the excesses of the decade (which, by 1985, had already shown all of the warts and scars on its glossy face) by fully embracing them.
Fry and Mark White are responsible for all the songs and arrangements, with minor external participation from a couple of freaky art-world characters, such as David Yarritu and «Eden», a.k.a. Fiona Russell-Powell; in normal life, both functioned as musical journalists and photographers, but, as the clock struck twelve, mutated into epatage-crazed «beings». Their contributions to the actual record consist of little other than an occasional bit of spoken voice overdub or record scratching (rumor has it that even Fiona's infamous self-presentation on 'A To Z' — "Hi, I'm Eden, I want you to kiss my snatch" — was recorded not by herself, but by Fry, who used a simple voice-altering device; of course, that may have been one of Fiona's later inventions), but visually, they were employed by Fry and White as a pair of grotesque mannequins that emphasized the band's new stage show in a novel manner.
Not that it helped their sinking popularity in any way; in the UK, the album sold even less than Beauty Stab, and the only single that managed to crack the Top 40 was 'Be Near Me', a danceable ballad whose one-finger-on-the-keyboard melody is indeed quite difficult to get out of your head — but it is in no way typical of the album (and, in fact, isn't even its best ballad; that honor should arguably go to 'Ocean Blue', blessed with an excellent jazz-fusion bass part that really had no business being there, but, as it is, turns the song from routine junk into something treasurable).
What is typical of it is a set of jumpy, paranoid, and overtly sarcastic «synth-boppers» — 'Vanity Kills', '15 Storey Halo', 'Tower Of London', the title track — all of them light, trashy, catchy, and, overall, tons of fun, because it is all but impossible to take them «seriously». You do have to lend your ear to the lyrics from time to time, or else you could mistake this clump of annoyingly clever kitsch for a half-witted attempt to get in with the times and win over new waves of synthesizer-happy idiots who'd be glad to dance to anything as long as it's got a beat at all, or as long as it's got a mind-numbing repetitive vocal hook like the "scoobey-doo-ba" refrain in 'Tower Of London', which is really, above all, a send-up of «cool people»'s love for chic places.
It is quite telling, one might argue, that, although the lead-in number reasserts Leibniz in that "We are living in the best of all possible worlds" and the chorus goes "Fear of the world — No fear, no fear of the world!", the title of the song is still 'Fear Of The World' rather than the expected 'No Fear Of The World': on paper, the tune optimistically tells you to battle and overcome your troubles, but in reality, there is grim sarcasm oozing out of every pore. All of which makes How To Be... an excellent case study of the epoch — and could make it a mini-masterpiece, if only the instrumentation were not so horrendously dated.
All of these beats, synth rhythms, cheap-sex backing vocals, everything needed to be done differently, if only Fry and White could look just a little ahead of their time; today, it makes no sense putting the album on for a friend and saying «how about me introducing you to a real smart record from 1985?» — most people just wouldn't understand. Thumbs up for the concept and the hooks, but clearly a thumbs down, in retrospect, at least, for execution.
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