One of the year's big surprises isn't that much of a surprise if you've been paying attention to the dance clubs where England's ABC has been hitting it big with such seductive and snappy singles as "Tears Are Not Enough," "Poison Arrow" and "The Look of Love." What is surprising is the depth and daring of their debut album, "The Lexicon of Love."
This is an album of basic, irresistible white disco/funk, the smooth, compelling kind that the English seem able to conjure up without bleached parodies or skittish imitations.
Major credit must be shared by songwriter and lead singer Martin Fry and producer Trevor Horn, who has created an immaculate, multi-layered, dense sound that you need a buzz saw to cut through.
Like his role models David Bowie and Bryan Ferry, Fry is less a trained voice than a fine-tuned presence who triumphs in melancholy romanticism. But he brings a sweetly desperate energy to his literate vision of heart-games, as Ferry on steroids or Bowie on Vitamin C do. Where those two are cool, almost cold, the ultra-stylish Fry is hot, happily wedded to the ultra- modern electro-beat of the Human League and Soft Cell, but also inspired by ABBA's killer commercial instincts.
This is well-heeled party music, rhythm'n'tails, with thudding bass lines that insinuate themselves into dancing shoes like a shoe horn.
Trevor Horn, one of the few people in modern music who would dare to mix strings and synthesizers, seems to work on the assumption that everything goes. The only silence on this album occurs on the connecting bands; otherwise, it's all wild and incongruous, from the Martin Denny- meets-Bowie of "Valentine's Day" to Phil Spector-gets-the-Byrds of "All of my Heart" to the orchestral overture of "Show Me."
With Fry's wry intimations of immorality and Horn's epic dance-pop production, "Lexicon of Love" is simply sensational -- exactly what you'd expect from a band whose roadies wear tuxedos. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM ABC The Lexicon of Love (Mercury SRM-1-4059). THE SHOW ABC Monday at 9 at the Bayou.