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.
I 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.
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.”
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 was “drifting 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“