You’d think with my musical identity being formed in the mid-1980s and with ABC being a popular UK-based band (and boy howdy was I into that sort of thing back then) that I wouldn’t have missed out on most of their discography. And yet, I only listened to one of their albums a few times (at a friend’s house) back in the day and never went looking deeper in the decades since.
At this point, ABC is a band the same way recent incarnations of Jethro Tull is a band. In this case it’s Martin Fry instead of Ian Anderson who’s surrounded by whichever players meet his needs for the project.
It wasn’t until friend Wonderduck nudged me in the direction of their second album, Beauty Stab (reviewed previously), that I started paying much attention at all. When the latest record was announced, a “sequel” to their debut at that, I found myself intrigued.
So, can I review The Lexicon of Love II without actually being particularly familiar with its breakthrough predecessor? Sure I can. The sequel conceit can be taken or left as the listener chooses, as far as I’m concerned. My concern is whether this music stands on its own.
Generally speaking it does. Most of the album hits the “good but not great” mark, to my particular tastes. The lead single was “Viva Love,” which is plenty solid enough (and is on my portable playlist, months after release, so make of that what you will). Many of the other tracks like “The Flames of Desire,” “Confessions of a Fool,” “The Ship of the Seasick Sailor,” and “I Believe In Love” are fine. They’re plenty listenable. “The Love Inside The Love” should be used as an insert song in a high-quality James-Bond-like movie. Only one song (“Ten Below Zero”) is what I’d consider a loss. You can put this record on and bask in three quarter of an hour’s worth of well-produced and clever pop songcraft. There’s kind of a lounge-act quality to the synths-and-strings-and-crooning results, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s just not for me, mostly.
There’s one truly standout song here, though. One four-minute-or-so piece where everything Fry’s bringing to the effort just gels. That is “Singer Not The Song,” and if you pick up only one track from TLoL2, make it this one. It’s not markedly different in style or tone, mind you. Somehow, though, it’s the place on this album where Fry and his collaborators make a song work perfectly. Maybe it’s that it’s the least (blatantly) about-love piece in the track list? Maybe it’s that here’s where Fry sounds like he’s really putting a lot more of himself into the words and performance? But as the song itself declares, he’s the singer, not the song. One seems discouraged from speculating. Whatever, it just works.
Should you buy this album? Generally, I recommend it. My quibbles with the album are entirely to do with what I get out of music personally. It’s smart, it sounds good, it’s enjoyable and lush and energetic. Unless you’re averse to upbeat pop music in kind of an 80s-throwback vein, you will probably find plenty to enjoy here.