ABC / Dexys

Reviews: ABC, “The Lexicon of Love II”; Dexys, “Let the Record Show: Dexys do Irish and Country Soul”

It’s 1986 in an alternate universe. After a couple of less successful albums on which they dabbled in rock and dance music, ABC have finally accepted that everyone just wants a proper sequel to their classic début The Lexicon of Love and have delivered. Meanwhile, flushed with success after their epic third album Don’t Stand Me Down spent a full three months at number 1 (and who would have thought the full 12 minute version of This is What She’s Like would top the singles chart?), Kevin Rowland marches Dexys Midnight Runners back into the studio to cut a set of interpretations of songs that inspired him on his way to international success.

Okay, not really, it’s 2016 and you’re still here, but if you want to allow yourself to indulge in that particular fantasy for a while, you can because ABC and Dexys have indeed both released new albums. ABC’s set in particular comes with some weighty self-imposed baggage, as after thirty-four years it seems Martin Fry has finally come up with an album worthy of the title The Lexicon of Love II. That’s a lot of expectation to live up to, especially without the magic touch of Trevor Horn, but when one of Anne Dudley’s immaculate string arrangements kicks off opening track The Flames of Desire it looks like Fry might actually have pulled this off. Lead single Viva Love, The Ship of the Seasick Sailor and Ten Below Zero have all the hallmarks of classic ABC and there’s even a knowing reference to Poison Arrow‘s spoken “I thought you loved me but it seems you don’t care” section in Kiss Me Goodbye. It’s difficult – and unfair – to draw direct comparisons between these songs and those that have been part of your life for over thirty years, and there are moments when it’s hard not to wonder what Trevor Horn would have done with some of these songs (pretty certain he wouldn’t have put that shuffly dance beat behind the big closing ballad Brighter Than The Sun for one thing), but this is undeniably a great ABC album.

While Martin Fry revisits his past as the only remaining original member of ABC, Kevin Rowland revisits his in a different way. After the success of Dexys’ 2012 comeback One Day I’m Going To Soar, Rowland finally appears to have found his happy place and – for once – a reasonably stable Dexys line-up and style.

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The idea of Rowland recording another album of “interpretations” of songs he’s “always loved and wanted to record” may set alarm bells ringing if you’re one of the select band of people who bought his 1999 solo set My Beauty, but despite its spectacularly uncompromising title Let the Record Show: Dexys do Irish and Country Soul is an entirely different beast. While I must confess to having a soft spot for My Beauty, it really was a nervous breakdown set to music – a completely rewritten lyric here, a foul-mouthed spoken word interjection there, the Rowland gusset on display for all to see on the front sleeve – and there’s an unsettling feeling that Let the Record Show might be going the same way as Kevin talks, yelps and howls his way through the Bee Gees’ To Love Somebody. Unlike the disjointed karaoke of My Beauty though, Let the Record Show benefits from having a defined theme on which to hang the songs, the likes of You Wear It Well and Both Sides Now integrating surprisingly easy with Irish standards I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen and Forty Shades of Green. Grazing in the Grass even captures the sound of Kevin Rowland enjoying himself, which is rare indeed. Okay, it’s a Dexys album, so detractors of Rowland’s vocal delivery need not apply, but in a world where so many albums are focus-grouped to death before release, the continued presence of Dexys is something to be cherished.

ABC: 9/10

Dexys: 8/10

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