Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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ABC

  • The Lexicon of Love [Mercury, 1982] A-
  • Beauty Stab [Mercury, 1983] A-
  • How to Be a Zillionaire [Mercury, 1985] B-
  • Absolutely [Mercury, 1990] *
  • The Best of ABC: 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection [Mercury, 2001] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Lexicon of Love [Mercury, 1982]
Since Bowie and Ferry sold surface in disguise back when they were supposedly saving rock and roll, I don't worry about this tribute band's lack of depth. Martin Fry's candid camp and ad-man phrasing don't fully justify his histrionic flights, but they do give him room to be clever, which is clearly his calling--some of these synthetic funk rhythms make me laugh out loud, and he's an ace jingle writer. "If that's the trash aesthetic I suggest that we forget it"? Not when your throwaways include bon mots like "looking for the girl who meets supply with demand." A-

Beauty Stab [Mercury, 1983]
I don't get these complaints that Martin Fry has abandoned his shallow but ingratiating popcraft for a brave/pretentious but/and ill-advised stab at social significance. Except for "The Look of Love," a super-catchy fluke that apparently confused people, instant hooks weren't how the first album worked either, and his shallowness was always more apparent than real. As with the debut, give this one five spins and you'll remember every track, with "She's vegetarian except when it comes to sex" your first but not last aha. Whether you'll enjoy it all as much is another matter--there's a slight loss of verve. But that was then and this is now. A-

How to Be a Zillionaire [Mercury, 1985]
The look of the Mark I ABC fooled Anglophobes into dismissing the music as fashion-plated pandering even though it was as politically suggestive as Anglophile heroes get. So don't let the look of the Mark II ABC fool you into hoping the music is outrageous, or even campy. Sure "Be Near Me" is catchier than anything on Beauty Stab, but when Martin Fry is on his game the hooks that make ABC sell coexist with the glossy electrofunk and dense wordplay that make (or made) them sparkle. As a great romantic he's just trying for a comeback. B-

Absolutely [Mercury, 1990]
a career downhill--hear Martin Fry turn into the disco whore he begins by parodying so lovingly ("The Look of Love," "S.O.S.") *

The Best of ABC: 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection [Mercury, 2001]
For two whole albums in the early '80s, nearly 18 months, Martin Fry poised on the dizzying edge of parody without cramping up. Then he nosedived. When he came to, he'd turned into the disco dandy he'd pretended he was so much smarter than, doomed to envy Neil Tennant till the end of his alienated days. If you want to honor Fry's artistic integrity, The Lexicon of Love can be had cheap. Poetically, this cheapo looks cheap while making Fry seem more pop-savvy than he actually was. A-