ABC: Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London

ABC WERE ALWAYS a band with a manifesto. Three decades ago, the Sheffield group emerged equally in thrall to the debonair allure of Bryan Ferry and the mercurial disco of Chic, declaring their intention to make “supreme pop records”. When their lavish debut album, The Lexicon of Love, hit No 1, it felt like mission accomplished.

This show to mark the 30th anniversary of that achievement is a suitably rarefied affair. Their elegant yearning was always heavily orchestrated and so it is fitting that dapper, suited-and-booted frontman Martin Fry revisits it alongside the Southbank Sinfonia, conducted by original ABC collaborator Anne Dudley.

The first half of the evening, featuring a selection of the band’s less successful later tracks, is fitful and occasionally slumps into overly slick jazz-funk, but the night sparks into life when they play The Lexicon of Love in its entirety. ‘Poison Arrow’ remains a pop masterpiece, its poignant lush melodrama surviving even the high camp of its spoken-word exchanges.

ABC’s literate, erudite pop always hit home because it was also patently sincere: there were real heartstrings being twanged in archly confessional pop hits such as ‘Tears Are Not Enough’. Yet their high-water mark remains ‘The Look of Love’, one of the most audacious attempts ever to condense giddy infatuation into a three-minute pop song.

The material has aged spectacularly well, as timeless art does – Fry shows his age only once, wryly commenting before ‘All of My Heart’ that we are “halfway through side two now”. For the encore, he takes another turn through ‘The Look of Love’ and the festive crowd bellows along to this glittering paean to insatiable desire as if it were Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’. It is so wrong that it is absolutely right.

© Ian GittinsThe Guardian, 19 December 2012

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