ABC, Royal Albert Hall, London
Monday 13 April 2009
Yes, we get the gold lamé suit, but only at the end of a glorious night that has placed one of the Eighties' most perfectly constructed albums back near the top of the pop pantheon.
Singer Martin Fry's iconic outfit has overshadowed what his band achieved with The Lexicon of Love. So to rehabilitate their debut album, they play it tonight in its entirety, accompanied by the BBC Concert Orchestra, in turn conducted by Anne Dudley, strings arranger on the actual recording. Of the line-up that recorded the album, only Fry and drummer David Palmer remain, strange when its engineer mans the sound desk tonight and the original backing singer has flown in from South Africa.
These now unfamiliar bedfellows slowly gel over an uneven first set that takes in the rest of the group's catalogue. The orchestra provide a sympathetic backing, with joyous brass on "When Smokey Sings", though their sweeping strings fail to rescue the bland "SOS". A competent band plod through cod-soul and anaemic funk, with only "(How to Be a) Millionaire" and "The Night You Murdered Love" hinting at the riches to come.
For the second half, the album's producer, Trevor Horn, introduces what he admits is the finest body of songs he has worked on, though it is left to Fry, reminiscing with dry wit about a cramped East End studio, to admit some historical revision is going on. Never a classic vocalist, the front man's lived-in delivery suits even better the lovelorn subject matter.
Lexicon stands up today as a consummate break-up record, and Fry still brings its hit singles to life. There is venom on "Poison Arrow", for "The Look of Love" he is as wry as its pizzicato strings and on "All of My Heart" achingly vulnerable. Moreover, each album track gets its chance to shine.
"Valentine's Day" has all the propulsion of classic orchestra-led disco, while "Tears Are Not Enough" sashays with enough salsa heat to hint at an upmarket Kid Creole. On "Date Stamp", Fry neatly connects romance as transaction with Thatcher's free-market ideology, though in these circumstances the most memorable line must be "I've seen the future, I can't afford it", from "Millionaire". The Lexicon of Love, though, remains a rock-solid investment.
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