ABC How To Be A Zillionaire (Mercury)

Eh, but this is horrible. Two albums on from the immaculate fusion of cocktail party style and blue-eyed soul-pop substance that constituted their debut “The Lexicon Of Love”, Martin Fry’s crew are shipwrecked in the mid-80s, drowning in Emulator and Fairlight clichés. Less an album than a monument to Mammon, this obnoxiously aspirational record makes “Brothers In Arms” sound like the work of Billy Bragg. If it’s a joke, as the cartoon sleeve images are on the borderline of suggesting, it’s not a very amusing one.

“Be Near Me” almost approximates ABC’s old sound beneath the chrome-plated clutter, and there just might be a classic pop song buried under “Ocean Blue”, but it’s been so completely smothered by tinny technology – those dreadful synthesised handclaps! – it’s hard to be sure. Closer “Between You & Me” is also not too terrible, but having endured 40 minutes of the lousiest extended dance mix in musical history it’s way too little, far too late to redeem this sorry mess.

And those are the good bits. Weighed against them are the excruciating “Vanity Kills”, with its catty spoken introduction playing against backing vocals ripped out of Bowie’s “Fame” and the nastiest synthesised trumpet sound in the history of the microchip. “15 Storey Halo” adds affected, Americanised vocals and ostentatious 10cc harmonies to those ear-syringing synth horns. And then, unbelievably, it gets worse! “A To Z” is a display of pointless ornamentation that even The Art Of Noise would have been ashamed to put on a b-side. Still, at least it gave Teenage Fanclub the “Howdy disco citizens!” sample that opens their throwaway instrumental “Get Funky”. “So Hip It Hurts” is half-accurately titled, a mess of scat vocals and “Shaft” guitar licks.

Don’t do as I do, do as I tell you. Please don’t buy this album. It’s really, really bad.

ABC The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester 6 December 2009


To bill it in its full grandiosity, tonight’s ticket reads “ABC Performing LEXICON OF LOVE With a 50 Piece Concert Orchestra Plus support from ABC performing other hits”, and what self-respecting music lover could resist a bill such as that? Not me, even though said ticket retails for 75 times what I paid for my copy of the album itself. Surprisingly it’s not a new idea: despite complete live performances of classic albums seemingly being a very contemporary phenomenon, ABC were ahead of the curve, playing “The Lexicon Of Love” in concert during its year of release, 1982.


What happens first is the fifty pieces of the Manchester Camerata take to the stage, along with Anne Dudley, their conductor for the evening and an impressively authentic appointment given that she orchestrated the original album. They work their way through a pleasant but inessential overture based upon themes familiar from “The Lexicon Of Love”, and then Martin Fry and his eight-piece backing band arrive. They trot through a vaguely memorable set of pop-soul, offering up the advertised “other hits” including “Be Near Me”, “How To Be A Millionaire” (marginally less punchable than the album version), “When Smokey Sings”, “S.O.S.”, “Ocean Blue” and “The Night You Murdered Love”. Fry is an unlikely but magnetic centre of attention in his shiny dark suit, effortlessly both suave and sincere. The orchestra seems to be employed in completely the opposite fashion to that at John Cale’s “Paris 1919” performance last month: rather than being ladled obtrusively over every song, for all their furious sawing away there are times when they’re barely audible, nothing more than a distant suggestion of sound behind the band. At the halfway stage, then, the evening seems like an honourable idea flawed, if not drowned out entirely, in execution.


After the interval, though, comes the main attraction. “The Lexicon Of Love” is clearly superior, both musically and lyrically, to the material aired earlier in the evening, and the orchestra come to the fore more obviously when needed. It’s all good, but it’s “The Look Of Love” that fills the hall with collective euphoria and handbag dancing, a song so good, in fact, that they really do play it twice, the second time as an encore that gets the entire audience – yes, even me -on their feet. Revisions are limited to playing“4 Ever 2 Gether” (possibly the only dated moment in the entire album, with its creaky opening Fairlight-isms) ahead of the glorious “All Of My Heart”.


An album that for me has always been pleasant rather than earth-shattering is really taken to the collective consciousness here: I have happy memories of shouting myself hoarse during The Human League’s astonishing live rendition of “Dare”, so if I’m not quite as swept up and along by “The Lexicon Of Love” as the majority of the audience seem to be I can at least appreciate how it might happen.