Friday, 20 July 2012

God Like Genius - Martin Fry

It's been an age since I've done a God Like Genius post and so to return to the theme someone who partly responsible for one of my favourite lps and still my favourite single

That in enough should be enough but there is more and with each subsequent release struggling to match the debut there is a sense of flawed genius at work

Beauty Stab merged to a perplexed public and hostile at worst bemused at best reviews. It was as if critics couldn't forgive them for not releasing Lexicon Part 2. The taster had been That Was Then This is Now , gone was the shiny orchestral dance music and instead there was clashing guitars and early days Roxy sax solos. The trouble with clever word play is that when you get it wrong it is truly cringe worthy and the single became infamous for the relatively harmless Can't complain , Mustn't grumble , Help yourself to another piece of apple crumble The follow up was the more ABCy SOS but by then bridges had been burnt.

Listening back the reviews were harsh and ,apart from a couple of songs, the guitar sound really works. It also has a fantastic political ballad in United Kingdom and there are some echoes from the 1st lp largely in this track

You can buy Beauty Stab here and is well worth another visit 

Next up it was all change and a welcome to cartoon world. By now only Martin Fry and co writer Mark White remained. They recruited 2 band members who basically became expensive mannequins for videos (neither contributed to the writing or playing on any of the lp's songs)

How to be a Zillionaire is a highest of concept lps. The videos , the cover , the clothes , the songs all had a  disposable cartoon quality. Be Near Me gave them a big hit both sides of the atlantic, but the overall sound of the lp somehow manages to sound ahead of its time , but dated at the same time.

I remember seeing this on the Tube at the time and thinking "Martin what have you done" ! but I think bands like Deelite were listening and watching closely

Listening back the lp has at least 2 tracks as good as they've recorded - Ocean Blue and Be Near Me and the whole thing is great fun never more so than is this mad as a hatter epic

You can buy Zillionaire here

All change again , out went the cartoon characters , in came a night in the city. Back to just a duo this is the lp that could easily be the follow up to Lexicon of Love . The inspiration was Chic (never more so than on second single The Night You Murdered Love) The highlight though was this piece of perfectly cheesy pop

When Smokey Sings - ABC

As well as this bit of polished pop

You can buy Alphabet City here

All change again and for once I felt like the band were band wagon jumping and not ahead of the curve  (apols for slipping into David Brent land). The next 2 lps Up and Abracadabra both had a house based sound. Out went high fashion and in came beads and rave haircuts. The production on both lps is a bit wishy washy with that house piano sound that seemed to be on every pop song at the time.

Having said all of that some of the songs shine through . one of the best being this one

North - ABC

You can buy UP here and Abracadabra here. Up is the better of the two but they are both dirt cheap and have enough good tracks to take a punt on

Six years go by in which time ABC basically becomes a vehicle for Martin Fry's solo stuff

Both1997s  Skyscraping and the rougher sounding  Traffic from 2008 deserved a much bigger audience. Both took early Bowie and Roxy as their template and both got good reviews. However having turned the band into a permanent fixture on the nostalgia tours (although I did see them support Robbie Williams and drunkenly stood to shout genius much to the embarrassment of my wife and bemusement of the teeny boppers) the new stuff reached die hard fans only.

Here is the title track from Skyscraping

You can buy Skyscraping here and Traffic here

Finally overplayed as it has been here is the gold jacket in full glory during the Lexicon of Love live event at the Royal Albert Hall compete with full orchestra. The sound is not great but worth it for what I think is Trevor Horn doing very self conscious backing vocals


  1. An excellent capsule of ABC history & a nice read to boot! Thank you.

  2. Like the critics, I couldn't forgive them either. Based on your extensive labor today, I'm willing to give Beauty Stab another go. I saw it the other day on vinyl for three bucks. I'll go back and get it.

  3. Hi Brian

    in a way I do think Alphabet city makes the perfect Lexicon follow up! but I have a bizzare soft spot for beauty stab

  4. Well done!

    Beauty Stab is a brilliant album in my mind and something special given that they were left holding an empty bag when Horn left to produce Yes leaving Gary Langan to attempt fill the stacked heals.

    Zillionaire, like Cupid and Psyche 85 is ahead of it's time sonically and in the use of Fairlight. It is also one of the first digital from recording to mastering recordings in Pop.

    Alphabet City is what every early 80s British Pop band was attempting by the latter 80's but could not achieve. Where Human League just gave up and hired Jam & Lewis to produce, excuse me, reinvent them, ABC took the influence of Minneapolis, Detroit, Chicago and NYC and built a perfect pop album that suited the times and proved their worth.

    I'm a great fan of Abracadabra, but Up is the album that hasn't aged as well.

    Skyscraping is a lost gem. ABC was now a supergroup with Keith Lowndes and Glenn Gregory of H17/Ugly/Honeyroot pushing Fry to make an album filled with the sounds and influences of his youth.

    Finally I just love Traffic! It informs me that Fry has more in him and I want to hear it. Caroline is one of the most beautiful songs he has written and shows off a mellowed and mature vocal. One Way Traffic is just plain White Boy Funky! Lose Yourself is a new millenium Pop anthem with a very timely lyric. Yeah sorry but I really like this album a lot!!

  5. hi Echo

    thanks - shame Traffic and Skyscraping kind of passed everyone by
    I think with Ab and Up there is 1 decent lp in there if you combine the best tracks of both


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