With the release of “Look of Love; The very best of ABC” the group celebrated their return to the recording studio and to high-publicity performance, galvanised by some gorgeous new songs and a series of stadium dates with Robbie Williams.
ABC is one of those groups who come along once a decade to effect a paradigm shift in the way music is heard and made, one of those groups who move the music forward, alert us to the possibilities of strange combinations, employ radical ideas yet never confuse arrogance with ambition.
If tomorrow a bunch of white northern students decided to form a band inspired not by the integrated-to-the-point-of-invisibility Beatles-Kinks-Stones but instead by the collective irrationality and transcendent imaginations of Aphex Twin, N*E*R*D and The Beta Band, you’d still only be halfway towards understanding just how fundamental a break with tradition ABC affected in that period between punk and Madchester/grunge. Imagine a band from the alternative/indie sector whose idea of a dream version of pop music includes the metallic foreboding of Iggy Pop circa ‘The Idiot’ and the symphonic magnificence of Earth Wind & Fire circa ‘I Am’; imagine the savagery of The Sex Pistols barely concealed beneath the surface of a Chic sophistication. ABC was (is) that band. They took that idea and they made it happen. Across the hit parades of several continents.
This is why ABC was praised to the skies in the eighties and it is why they are still loved to this day. It is not a question of nostalgia, it is a matter of contemporary urgency. ABC is no museum piece; they are an object lesson in how to avoid the obvious. They should be on the curriculum.
Meanwhile, their recordings are national treasures. First, now and forever, was ‘The Lexicon Of Love’ 1982), not just a sensational debut but one of the greatest albums ever made, with its brass constructions and guitar ravishments, Anne Dudley’s shivers of strings and Trevor Horn’s epic bombast transforming the drum beats into epochal bomb blasts. The self-immolating exercise in hard rock style/ anti-style that was ‘Beauty Stab’ (1983) came next, and to suggest that it caused less delight than dismay on its release would be the understatement of the century.
Third LP ‘How To Be A Zillionaire’ (1985) surfed the wave of innovation in the area of electronic rhythms and came in cartoon colours. The shiny neo-soul of ‘Alphabet City’ (1987) positioned ABC, musically and ideologically if not alphabetically, somewhere between Motown and ZTT, Philly and Ze. Phase V of ABC gave us ‘Up’ (1989) and ‘Abracadabra’ (1991), energised by the then-vibrant house scene, stealing moves from Chicago just as those dudes stole from ABC and their electro-funk peers. ‘Skyscraping’ (1997) might have provided a fine coda to the ABC story if only Martin Fry didn’t have behind that famous blonde fringe of his a brain load of new songs and new ideas as he continues to make records.