ABC – Beauty Stab (1983)

Ask most people with a passing interest in pop music from the 1980’s to name two ABC albums and I doubt they would name Beauty Stab. Or in fact anything other than The Lexicon of Love.

ABC Beauty StabI can understand that. LoL was a huge international success and (for me at least) the soundtrack of summer 1982. All subsequent ABC releases were overshadowed by LoL. Nothing stood a chance, really. Which is probably why I hold a torch for Beauty Stab.

I won’t pretend to have been an admirer from the start, indeed it was three or four years after release before I even heard it. As a fickle early teen I had moved on to the Thompson Twins, Duran Duran, Frankie, etc. ABC’s lack of post Lexicon of Love chart success meant they just weren’t on my pop radar anymore. A chance listen to a tape made for me by a schoolmate changed this and it became an album I return to more than most, even Lexicon of Love. Even 30 years later.

“There’s no better example other than Beauty Stab to illustrate the sophomore jinx, the dreaded second album syndrome.”

Beauty Stab sounds like an album made out of frustration. Touring the world for 18 months had left its mark and LoL’s success had led to the band fragmenting, briefly challenging The Fall in the staff turnover stakes. By 1983 they were down to a three piece, the band’s reduced personnel reflecting the decimated employment market of 1983 Britain, a domestic state of affairs that reflected the tone of album and many of Fry’s lyrics.Beauty Stab inner sleeve

Harking back to LoL’s All of my Heart, Beauty Stab did indeed “Skip the hearts and flowers, skip the ivory towers” for a tight, rocky, stripped back sound.

“We didn’t want to to follow up the Lexicon of Love and we never did. That was a technicolour epic. This was a black and white documentary.”

While the music and the tone had changed direction, Fry’s lyrics remained playful. That Was Then But This is Now, often wrongly held up to be one of the worst rhyming couplets in pop, offers the following delightful nugget:

Can’t complain, mustn’t grumble. Help yourself to another piece of apple crumble“.

What’s wrong with that, eh?* Beauty Stab is chock-full of fine lines, from the saucyness of Unzip (“She’s vegetarian except when it comes to sex, he’s strictly ad lib except when he consults the text”) to the Socialist Worker-lite of King Money (“The Midas touch doesn’t mean that much until you’re crippled with greed, using gold as a crutch.“)

Or how about the political tub thumping of United Kingdom, as apt in Coalition Britain as it was during Thatcher’s pomp in 1983 (“This rusted, busted, upper-crusted. Rusted, busted, done and dusted. No-man-to-be-trusted United Kingdom.”)

“We failed and succeeded at the same time.”

Beauty Stab vinyl On a forum I occasionally frequent, I recently came across a “great unsung albums” thread. I proffered Beauty Stab and was surprised to get so many positive responses. I thought this was my album but clearly it was loved by many more, all of whom probably thought they were one of only a few in the know too. Amazon uber-reviewer Jason Parkes may have a point in his generous assessment of the album but if I wasdrifting on a open sea, I’d like to think this is the album I’d rescued.

(All quotes are taken from the 2005 CD reissue sleeve notes)

*Far more guilty of this accusation is Adam Ant from his brilliant first solo album Friend or Foe, released a couple of years earlier. Here’s a line from Made of Money: “You think that I’m made of readies. That make me choke on my Shreddies

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8 thoughts on “ABC – Beauty Stab (1983)

  1. I must admit admit I never listened to the whole album, as I hated the first single. But i did love SOS….so will go back and check it out. Great cover!

  2. I find follow-up albums to a big hit fascinating – like This is Hardcore to Different Class, In Utero to Nevermind.
    Based on your review, this sounds like an equally intriguing listen

  3. A complete shock to the system when it first came out at the tail end of 1983, it now sounds surprisingly prescient – not to mention timeless. I now play it more than another ABC album – it started to wrap its insidious tentacles around me in the mid 80s and it’s never let go ever since….. Granted, you could never follow an opulent achievement like their debut album. But ABC never played things safe – all their first three albums [1985’s ‘How To Be A Zillionaire’ was surprisingly enjoyable, almost goofy, cartoon-packaged hip-hop beat-box smart-pop of the highest order] were so different from one another that, if you took the vocals of Martin Fry out of the equation, they would have passed for three entirely different bands. Genius, in a word..

    *Postscript: ABC/Martin Fry have now – after 34 years – finally brought out a sequel to that first, epochal, album…and of course it’s titled ‘Lexicon Of Love II’…… welcome back, you crafty sod. 🙂

    • To paraphrase Neil Tenant, ABC’s first three albums is quite simply their imperial phase. Despite a bit of chart action with When Smokey Sings, Alphabet City never quite cut it for me, nor anything that followed.

      Re: LoL 2 – just playing. For the first time. Thought I’d hold tight for my signed vinyl copy, which arrived at the weekend :-). So far so good!

  4. A complete shock to the system when it first came out at the tail end of 1983, it now sounds surprisingly prescient – not to mention timeless. I now play it more than another ABC album – it started to wrap its insidious tentacles around me in the mid 80s and it’s never let go ever since….. Granted, you could never follow an opulent achievement like their debut album. But ABC never played things safe – all their first three albums [1985’s ‘How To Be A Zillionaire’ was surprisingly enjoyable, almost goofy, cartoon-packaged hip-hop beat-box smart-pop of the highest order] were so different from one another that, if you took the vocals of Martin Fry out of the equation, they would have passed for three entirely different bands. Genius, in a word..

    *Postscript: ABC/Martin Fry have now – after 34 years

  5. I was 17 years old when i bought the album beauty stab, untill than i was more interested in rock music.
    I think its a good mix of pop and rock and i like the glammer voice of Fry in combination with the guitar riffs. Recently the song that was then popped up in my mind and now i’m playing beaty stab (the whole album) weekly. I think beauty stab and dusk (the the) are two of the best albums made in that decade.
    Wiebe

    • I was about 16 when I first heard it and it was one of the first albums I really latched on to. I really should give The The a listen, they seemed to have passed me by. Don’t know why.

      Thanks for your comment!

  6. I thought Lexicon was a masterpiece so I didn’t hesitate to buy Beauty Stab when it came out. And though it clearly didn’t have the singles of their previous album, I still thought it was an outstanding record. It may have been the first time I witnessed a band completely change direction after a hit album.

    I loved loved loved the guitars (Mark White never gets any credit as a guitarist). And as much as I was impressed with the sound of Lexicon, I was blown away by the production of this. It still remains a sonic marvel.

    Fry may have strayed a bit too much into politics, but he delivers the goods even on those tracks. To me, Beauty Stab will always be a vastly underrated gem.

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