Friday, January 6, 2012

ABC: What '80s Roxy Music Wanted To Sound Like But Didn't?

In 1982, Roxy Music released their final album, Avalon. It was fairly popular and, although very different from the band's earlier material, still critically praised. Stephen Thomas Erlewine has called it "one of their finest albums" and "another landmark in their career." For my part, I've never really thought much of it; I find the album somewhat dated and lifeless. Not that I don't think Roxy Music could have made great, somewhat more commercial music in the early 80s. But Avalon wasn't it. If they'd wanted to go in this direction, they should have made an album more like ... ABC's The Lexicon Of Love!

Imagine David Bowie and Bryan Ferry making hot glam rock love (honestly, is it really so out of the question?) and conceiving a child; that child would be ABC lead singer Martin Fry. Whereas Bowie and Ferry were starting to go through the motions by 1982, as far as Fry was concerned, no one had ever sung a tongue-in-cheek love song before.

I mean just compare this:

with this:

Does Roxy Music have any parrots, puppets, or ballerinas in its video? ABC wins.

I was surprised by how much I liked the band's first album, The Lexicon Of Love (produced by a post-Buggles/pre-Frankie Goes To Hollywood Trevor Horn), which I think pulls off an impressive feat: it manages to simultaneously poke fun at the crooning British lounge lizard style without actually succumbing to insincerity or irony (imagine saying that about Bowie or Roxy Music!). Fry may be putting us on, but he also doesn't deny the magic of the kind of pop music he is supposedly lampooning. He's like a great Audrey Hepburn movie: yes, I've seen this plot many times before, but it's so witty and charming I can't help but be smitten all over again.

For instance: I've dissected the lyrics to "The Look Of Love," and although on a casual listen I feel like I know what the song is about, upon closer inspection, I'm not sure the song is actually about anything. But Fry's rhymes are so clever and his singing is so impassioned, the song's "true" meaning almost resides outside the lyrics:
When your girl has left you out on the pavement (goodbye)
Then your dreams fall apart at the seams
Your reason for living's your reason for leaving
Don't ask me what it means

Who got the look
I don't know the answer to that question
Where's the look
If I knew I would tell you
What's the look
Look for your information
Yes there's one thing, the one thing that still holds true
What's that

That's the look, that's the look
The look of love
That's the look, that's the look
The look of love
That's the look, that's the look
The look of love
Sounds great, except ... what the hell is "the look of love"? What are you talking about? You're just making stuff up! In the end, it's a pop song about pop songs. And Fry doesn't need to pull out the thesaurus in order to do it (I'm looking at you, Elvis Costello).

Also: listen to the keyboard melody around the 2:22 mark. Is it just me, or do I hear a little bit of "Holiday" in there? Looks like Madonna may have lifted the hook of love.


Herr Zrbo said...

Very Holiday-esque sounding - good ear! Now who the hell are ABC? Wasn't that the pre-teen rap group from the early 90s?

Little Earl said...

Ah, you must be thinking of "Another Bad Creation." I just saved you from a major potential party gaffe there. Also not to be confused with Color Me Badd.