ABC’s debut album combined the talents of the Sheffield, U.K.-based band, particularly lead singer Martin Fry, a fashion plate of a frontman with a Bryan Ferry fixation, and the inventive production style of former Buggles member Trevor Horn and his team of musicians, several of whom would go on to form the Art of Noise. Horn created dense tracks that merged synthesizer sounds, prominent beats, and swaths of strings and horns, their orchestrations courtesy of Anne Dudley, who would follow her work with the Art of Noise by becoming a prominent film composer, and who here underscored Fry’s stylized romantic lyrics and dramatic, if affected, singing.
The production style was dense and noisy, but frequently beautiful, and the group’s emotional songs gave it a depth and coherence later Horn works, such as those of Yes (“Owner of a Lonely Heart”) and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, would lack. (You can hear Horn trying out the latter band’s style in “Date Stamp.”) Fry and company used the sound to create moving dancefloor epics like “Many Happy Returns,” which, like most of the album’s tracks, deserved to be a hit single. (In the U.K., four were: “Tears Are Not Enough,” “Poison Arrow,” “The Look of Love,” and “All of My Heart,” the last three making the Top Ten; in the U.S., “The Look of Love” and “Poison Arrow” charted Top 40.) ABC, which began fragmenting almost immediately, never equaled its gold-selling first LP commercially or artistically, despite some worthy later songs.