ABC: Beauty Stab

The Lexicon Of Loathe: ABC’s flawed second LP, reissued with one extra track

ORSON WELLES was 26 when he created his Citizen Kane; Martin Fry was 24 when he produced his — 1982’s The Lexicon Of Love, an album so perfect he couldn’t possibly repeat its success. He didn’t even try. Instead, in an act of punk-ish sabotage, he literally flushed his trademark gold lame suit down a toilet and reinvented his group, ABC, as a blazing, blaring rock’n’roll band with futuristic knobs on.

Beauty Stab was the result. Released in late 1983, it was the last thing anyone expected of ABC, and thus the first thing Fry thought of doing: 12 tracks of jarring chord progressions, staccato noise, and guitars where formerly there were strings.

ABC’s second LP was well-named. Together with Gary Langan (who was then assembling the Art Of Noise with producer Trevor Horn and journalist Paul Morley), Fry pierced the immaculate surfaces of The Lexicon Of Love and assassinated the cool matinee idol of such hits as ‘Poison Arrow’ and ‘The Look Of Love’, replacing him with a conscience-pricked commentator who he recently christened, with deadpan accuracy, “Billy Bragg in drag”.

Fry, post-Falklands and back in Sheffield, became wracked with guilt. He began to feel that his supersonic pop was just too lavish and that he needed to address, not love and romance, but the state of the nation. From the pleasure principle to social realism in 15 short months, via a series of lyrics that were concerned (very concerned) with disenchantment and unemployment, the fatal lure of lucre and the inequalities of the British class system.

There were two minor hits on Beauty Stab: ‘That Was Then But This Is Now’, which seemed to anticipate the death of early Eighties New Pop and the Return To Rock as signalled by The Smiths and R.E.M.; and ‘S.O.S.’, one final glimpse of Fry’s pop-ish delight that featured, on backing vocals, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, ABC’s natural chart-subverting heirs.

Elsewhere on Beauty Stab, you could hear Fry’s schizoid impulses — the Northern kid wowed by the sophisticated dance sound of Chic, and the extreme noise terrorist with a bootful of New York Dolls and Stooges records — duking it out. On ‘Bite The Hand’, you get some idea of what heavy metal might have sounded like conceived by Isaac Hayes. For the mutant disco-rock of ‘Love’s A Dangerous Language’, a clearly shaken Fry rejected his entire belief system (“See what love’s done!”), while on the musically complex ‘King Money’ he owned up to feelings of weakness and greed, “using gold as a crutch”. Brave man.

© Paul LesterUncut, February 1998

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