Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last couple of months you’ll be well aware that recent shenanigans at DRC have featured our Singles World Cup. According to our extensive survey and sophisticated statistical analysis, Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy is the best single of all time, confirming in the process what Graham and myself had long suspected…our musical tastes are just a cut above (we both happened to choose this track as one of our top 8). Yet in the aftermath, I found myself anguishing over some of my choices wondering what might have been, especially in light of a few howling omissions. Omissions such as:
- No Witchita Lineman as I assumed Rob and Nick would both choose this.
- No song by Nile Rogers – in fact nothing remotely disco at all.
- No Say a Little Prayer by Aretha Franklin.
- Nothing from one of the finest pop albums ever: The Lexicon of Love by ABC – an album so filled with gleaming pop perfection that any one of its 9 tracks could have been submitted (as they all must have been released as singles somewhere in the world at some point in time…I’m sure I remember Many Happy Returns reaching number 1 in Guinea Bissau in 1995).
The least I could do was to take this to our first bona fide meeting since Singles World Cup.
Lexicon of Love is one of those albums (like Steve McQueen and London Calling and Tonight’s the Night and Searching for the Young Soul Rebels and…) that I bought out of a sense of obligation to its classic status, having never really been drawn to its songs whenever I heard them on the radio. But really a tinny old transistor could never do justice to such complex, orchestrated magnificence. So whilst I entered into my Lexicon of Love experience with low expectations, it wasn’t long before I began to see what all those fawning critics were on about. I was hooked, lined and sinkered!
Although most definitely pop music, The Lexicon of Love offers so much more than this might suggest and hence stands proud at the top of that shiny, synthesized pop edifice that existed in the early to mid 80s. So many bands tried to run with this baton only to trip up within a few steps, missing the point that hidden within these nine pop jewels is a subtlety and sophistication that rewards repeated listens and works on so many levels that even after hundreds of listens it reveals new twists, sounds and atmospheres. Although a completely different beast, maybe the next record to come along that managed to repeat this trick so successfully was Portishead’s Dummy – I can’t think of many records in between these two that could claim to balance accessibility, sophistication and innovation quite so adeptly.
Yet despite having such riches in abundance, Lexicon of Love is defined by its two chart smashes – let’s face it, everyone of a certain age can sing along to Poison Arrow and The Look of Love. But to suggest that these two tracks are the album’s crowning glories is just plain stupid….they are all crowning glories. Tears Are Not Enough and All of My Heart were also released as singles and are every bit as good (in fact I prefer them, but that doesn’t necessarily make them better) and my favourite track of all varies with each listen although I always find the majestic and ominous Valentine’s Day to be absolutely breathtaking.
Although ABC went on to release a string of well enough regarded albums after the Lexicon of Love, they were always chasing their tails and their latter day output has always been (perhaps inevitably) overshadowed by this gargantuan debut album of pure pop perfection..after all, when you’re at the top, the only way is down!
Rob listened: Well, I don’t think ‘Lexicon of Love’ has anything in common with ‘Dummy’, but I do think that it sits squarely in the middle of Tom’s sweet spot, nestling in amongst other sophisticated 80s pop suites like ‘The Dreaming’, ‘Sulk’ and ‘Spirit of Eden’. I do remember the singles making quite an impression over a crackly AM radio, but I never went back to ‘Lexicon’ after I started buying records of my own, so tonight was my first time hearing it through. I loved it, predictably. I’ve been back to it four of fives times in the ten days since we met and have had ‘All Of My Heart’ in constant Head Music rotation. There must be pop music as head-spinning as this being made right now. I wish I had the time to open my ears to it, but first of all I think perhaps I’ll spend a couple of decades mining all the stuff like this I missed first time around.
Nick listened: I’m aware of the esteem that this is held in, but aside from a couple of snatches of choruses to the singles, I’m just a little too young to have felt its initial impact or to have been swept up in the resultant ripples later on. As a result, most of this was pretty much brand new to me, which seems nuts given the way the other guys enthusiastically talked about it, even if they hadn’t been into it at the time. 80s sophistipop is a rich seam, and this has nudged its way onto my longlist of stuff to explore further, the way Prefab Sprout did when Tom brought that.