ABC: SKYSCRAPING (1997)
1) Stranger Things; 2) Ask A Thousand Times; 3) Skyscraping; 4) Who Can I Turn To; 5) Rolling Sevens; 6) Only The Best Will Do; 7) Love Is Its Own Reward; 8) Light Years; 9) Seven Day Weekend; 10) Heaven Knows; 11) Faraway.
Six years later, ABC returns once again... as Martin Fry & A Bunch Of New Faces, confirming the idea that a «rock group» is driven by an ethereal musical spirit that can inhabit whatever material body it prefers. Or, if you wish, the idea that a «rock group»'s longevity is proportional to the degree of egotistic assholishness displayed by whoever was smart enough to pocket the brand name in the first place.
I believe it's both at the time: on one hand, Skyscraping could just as well be a Martin Fry solo album, on the other, it is as perfectly ABC-ish as a perfect ABC album should be. With Mark White disappearing on the horizon, Fry draws in his old competitor Glenn Gregory (from the synth pop outfit Heaven 17) and Keith Lowndes, and finally, in a long, long while, offers the world something decent.
Comparing Skyscraping to ABC's better albums like Alphabet City is somewhat useless, since the sound is much less grounded in electronics. Of all their previous LPs, only Beauty Stab made that much emphasis on guitars and other live instruments — and Skyscraping is a much stronger effort. This is not a «label» album; first time in ages, Fry is not attempting to jump on any bandwagon (having, no doubt, learnt the ugly lesson of Up and Abracadabra), but is simply writing and performing fine, solid, hookish, and quite pretty pop-rock material.
The opening track, 'Stranger Things', also released as one of the singles, is quite typical of the album: if it is up your alley, there is more of 'em here. Acoustic guitar undergrowth, pianos, strings, quasi-Mellotron effects in the background, lyrics that wobble between the sentimental and the anti-social, and a beautiful vocal snare when Fry throws in a falsetto hook with "It's funny how it used to be...". By now, he has lowered just about all of the defenses — if 'Stranger Things' is not a declaration of slavish love to Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry in person, nothing could ever be — but who cares? At this point, the man is adequate enough to simply do what he pleases, and if it please him to write Roxy Music-style, why not? Especially considering that Roxy Music have not been around for fifteen years.
The title track is a little different, a conscious nostalgic nod to New Romantic days, but it was another great choice for a single: catchy, danceable, and utterly charming in its modest escapism. The mood is later reprised on 'Faraway', a classic case of how to build up an unforgettable five minutes on a single hook — this time, the chorus line "you're as faraway as faraway can be", which may seem silly on paper, but works astonishingly well on the air.
Many of the songs «rock» — in a compressed, glossy way, as faraway from true rock'n'roll as faraway from true rock'n'roll can be, but still fun when the melodies are strong, e. g. 'Seven Day Weekend', which takes the brass brashness of classic T. Rex and mixes it with vocals that seem to be influenced by 'Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting' (surely Martin's "seven day, seven day... seven day weekend" must be at least an unconscious homage to "saturday, saturday... saturday night's alright"). 'Rolling Sevens' adds threatening wah-wah roar; 'Light Years' adds astral-psychedelic lite; 'Heaven Knows' is simply first-rate power-pop with no blemishes; and so on.
Simply put, Skyscraping is one of the 1990's best pop albums from a 1980's survivor. Why does nobody seem to care? For a simple reason — the world is not interested in survivors, much less 1980's survivors. Even had there been some real marketing behind Skyscraping, with strong MTV rotation and such, chances are nobody would give as much as half a smile, because, well, we all know — ABC is that bunch of guys who gave us Lexicon Of Love, and we do not remember ourselves giving them permission to give us anything else. But take a good, hard listen to the album, and you will know that, in many ways, this is the Fryest of all Fry albums that are not Lexicon Of Love. And when it comes to cool-walking, smooth-talking ladies' men, I'd rather empathize with Fry at his Fryest than, say, Tom Jones at his Jonesiest. Thumbs up.
Check "Skyscraping" (CD) on Amazon