The Lexicon Of Love
The context: A chance collision between a broken heart, a producer trying to figure out what the '80s ought to sound like, and a journalist singer with a gift for wordplay came together to create ABC's 1982 album The Lexicon Of Love. Martin Fry was a writer for the fanzine Modern Drugs when he interviewed a band called Vice Versa. They hit it off well enough to start making music together, and they caught the ear of Trevor Horn, a former member of The Buggles making a name for himself as a producer. In an era when rock, punk, and disco had all faltered, Horn kept an eye on the future, finding it in a band fronted by a fellow whose awkward looks weren't going to get in the way of his glamorous, lovesick art.
The greatness: Heartache offset whatever pleasure Fry took in being recruited by ABC, but he put it to good use throughout Lexicon. Across 10 tracks, he describes the exact dimensions of his romantic discontent using the cold terminology of business and fashion. "When I accepted this job, I was resigned to my fate," he sings on the opening of "Many Happy Returns," a take on love only slightly more gentle than that of the hit single "The Look Of Love (Pt. 1)," in which the very idea of beauty seems to drive him crazy. Meanwhile, Horn uses all his tricks to create an irresistible pulse of layered noise. It's a melancholy sound people can dance to, even if it leaves them feeling worse in the end.
Defining song: As Horn revealed in Simon Reynolds' post-punk history Rip It Up And Start Again, "The Look Of Love" has a meta moment that cuts through all the layers of irony at play: "Lexicon is all about Martin getting dumped by this specific girl… [W]hen Martin sings, 'When your girl has left you out on the pavement' and then there's a girl going, 'Goodbye!', well, that's the girl." But the most stunning track, "Date Stamp," never even saw release as a single. As cash registers ding and saxes moan, Fry sings about his heart being up for sale, concluding, "Everything is temporary, written in the sand / looking for the girl that meets supply with demand." It's the sound of someone who sees a market depression coming on fast.