ABC: THE LEXICON OF LOVE II (2016)
1) The Flames Of Desire; 2) Viva Love; 3) Ten Below Zero; 4) Confessions Of A Fool; 5) Singer Not The Song; 6) The Ship Of The Seasick Sailor; 7) Kiss Me Goodbye; 8) I Believe In Love; 9) The Love Inside The Love; 10) Brighter Than The Sun; 11) Viva Love (reprise).
Five or six years ago, perhaps, the very idea that a stylistically loyal sequel to ABC's «Eighties Rule Supreme!» masterpiece The Lexicon Of Love, could be anything more than ridiculous self-parody by a strapped-for-cash old geezer, would have seemed impossible to me. But as we move farther and farther into the 21st century, it seems that the dominant ideology is «anything goes»: in the face of a near-total lack of any true progression, 2016 is a good a year as any to put out a sequel not only to The Lexicon Of Love, but also to Revolver, Kind Of Blue, The Rite Of Spring, Hamlet, and the Code of Hammurabi — each of these enterprises has approximately as many chances of becoming a smash hit / bestseller as the next upcoming attempt by some «innovative» indie band to knock us off our feet with their unprecedented artistic vision.
So, therefore, do give old boy Martin Fry a chance and at least be merciful enough to hear him out. After all, he hasn't been completely washed up for all these years — both Skyscraping and Traffic were decent pop albums, and I cannot believe that The Lexicon Of Love II was made with money in mind: just how many people these days actually remember how popular the original was thirty-five years ago? On the other hand, if remembering the romantic punch of Lexicon could bring some extra inspiration to a much older Fry, why not give it a go? The worst thing that could happen would be another album that sucks, no big deal.
And, upon first listen, it does look like it could suck, because The Lexicon Of Love II truly does try to sound like the first record — the dance rhythms, the sweeping strings, the luscious vocals, the romantic hooks, all of that is quite consistent with the original, except the much smoother production that gives you a fuller, less cavernous sound, without all those un-organic echoes of the classic Eighties. You hear all that and it's like, «oh no, next thing we'll be having is the return of polyester suits». Or, at least, you go, «no no no, he's trying too hard, who is that guy to pull that ʽaging Casanovaʼ shit on us, how can anybody listen to such corniness?»
Yes, that was me for a short initial while. But two things managed to turn the emotional tide. First, the songs are written.... well, as scrupulously, I'd say, as possible. Fry really wants them to be as good as his best stuff — you can see how much energy he involves into finding the right kind of vocal hook for all of them. Yes, I do cringe at the song title ʽViva Loveʼ (it offends my linguistic taste as much as would something like ʽMake L'Amour To Meʼ), but I cannot deny that it's a well written pop stomper with some genuine feeling to it.
The second piece of good news is that there's no Lexicon Of Love without Anne Dudley — and now Anne Dudley is back, together with her orchestral arrangements that really make all the difference. The album opens with an orchestral prelude, finishes with an orchestral finale, and carefully and tastefully arranged strings are all over the place, including even a near-flawless simulation of a slow 18th century baroque menuet on ʽThe Love Inside The Loveʼ (for which she is dutifully co-credited together with Fry). It is, in fact, possible to forget all about Fry in the first place and just concentrate on the orchestration — yes, it is that good. The strings on ʽViva Loveʼ, for instance, seem to obey the general rules of disco, while at the same time retaining baroque elegance (I couldn't ever formulate that in strict musicological terms, but I'm old enough to have the right to trust my impressions). And on the slow ballads where Fry's hooklines are the most worn out, the strings are the only thing that saves the tunes from stinking (ʽTen Below Zeroʼ).
Subject-wise, Lexicon Of Love II breaks no new ground, and Martin never pretended that it would — he is merely revisiting the same topics (Endless Battle of Instinctive Feeling Vs. Rational Intellect) from the point of view of a much older man who is still capable of making the same mistakes (rephrasing here something he said himself in an interview), and the unabashed and downright simplistic (but turbulent) romanticism of it all may indeed sound antiquated for the modern ear, but give me a record full of decent pop hooks and beautiful orchestral arrangements over a quasi-serious post-modern statement of a nobody about nothing in particular any day, I say. In fact, it must kind of take guts for someone these days to release a song called ʽI Believe In Loveʼ (curiously, based on a hand picked acoustic pattern not unlike Lindsey Buckingham's ʽBig Loveʼ, before the synth-pop spirit takes over) — and not only that, but also (a) sing it without the slightest irony and (b) not be an Elton John or a Bryan Adams or somebody else who is fond of wrapping emotional platitudes in very boring music.
Fry's personal manifesto is perhaps best summarized in the last track — he admits that "I'm a man out of time, trapped in rewind", but "when all is said and done... our future's looking brighter than the sun", because, you know, them good old-fashioned values will never be gone completely, and might even return triumphantly. There's no scientific evidence, of course, why it should be so — it's a matter of belief, and ʽBrighter Than The Sunʼ perhaps succeeds better than any other song on here in convincing me just how strong his belief really is; Fry's personal charisma, picked up and magnified by the lens of Dudley's orchestration, might even radiate stronger here than on the original Lexicon, when ABC were still an actual band and their synth-pop hooks were more impersonal. For what this sequel lacks (in comparison) in grappling melodic patterns, it almost compensates with personality, and I, for one, am always ready to appraise a decent, not too overbearing, old-fashioned, nicely composed batch of romantic pop tunes. Most definitely recommended — not just for veteran fans of the band, but for anybody; for my money, this is as good as any «average-good» record of 2016, regardless of whether it comes from a fifty-year old dinosaur or an eighteen-year old rising indie star. Thumbs up, and looking forward to The Lexicon Of Love III from a ninety-year old Fry, with predictable titles like ʽI Still Believe In It, I've Just Forgotten The Wordʼ and ʽVi(v)a Gra (The Flames Of Desire, Rekindled)ʼ.