Friday, April 4, 2008

ABC -- "Poison Arrow" (1982)

When punk rock burst onto the scene in the mid to late 70's, they took their cues from 60's garage rock and 50's twangin' rock and roll. With that, the floodgates opened and the New Wave movement spewed forth all kinds of innovative bands which distinctly borrowed other American genres.

The one genre the English music acts revered the most was American soul music and R&B. There was a sudden rush of interest in Motown, fueled with the 1983 "Motown 25" NBC-TV special, where Michael Jackson moonwalked across the stage to "Billy Jean." Phil Collins covered "You Can't Hurry Love," Soft Cell merged "Tainted Love" and "Where Did Our Love Go?" Kim Wilde discoed through "You Keep Me Hanging On." The Jam lifted a Motown groove for "A Town Called Malice."

The one English act that took the whole phenomenon through the roof was ABC, who had the good fortune to team with "let's make it big baby" producer Trevor Horn and create their landmark debut. Mining all kinds of soul styles, ABC paired oh-too-clever lyrics with bright shiny production values, swirling strings, popping horns, thumb-pulled bass licks, and a nice dose of theater.

Singer Martin Fry was the perfect lead vehicle, his not-subdued English accent actually sounding more compelling than any tabloid reporter. He and the band dressed up to the nines, and each song was going to be a performance, inviting all to dance no matter what your day gig was.

"Poison Arrow" still remains my favorite ABC song, just a notch over "The Look Of Love," probably because there's this weird tongue in cheek attitude, like Martin is just winking at the audience, crying his heart out to the disco beat, but you hear the hiss in his voice:

If I were to say to you "Can you keep a secret?"
Would you know just what to do
or where to keep it?
Then I say"I love you" and foul the situation
Hey girl I thought we were the right combination.

Who broke my heart?
You did, you did
Bow to the target,
Blame cupid, cupid
You think you're smart
Stupid, stupid.

Then into the chorus, Fry raising it up to a falsetto, laying on the guilt, and you can truly picture Cupid shooting this poor sap down:

Shoot that poison arrow to my hear-r-r-rt
Shoot that poison arrow
Shoot that poison arrow to my hear-r-r-rt
Shoot that poison arrow

As with many Trevor Horn productions, the arrangement are impeccable. Three deep piano notes lead into a pulsing 16th-note hi hat, claps and barreling kick, a floating sax, and then the funky bass climbing to a peak and boom, right into the R&B groove of the song. It's the kitchen sink of soul -- xylophone, more sax, heated congas. Fry doesn't even begin singing until about 35 seconds into the song, which is a mere 3:24.

Later, the song takes its break, most instruments falling away to the piano and drums, where Martin has his little conversation with the heartbreaker:

He: "I thought you loved me but it seems you don't care."

She: "I care enough to know I can never love you."

With not even a second to breathe, a huge loud electronic drum fill comes takes up all the space, and then the final choruses.

This time in music also featured many classic 12" extended remixes of New Wave songs, another lift from the disco era. In the case of "Poison Arrow," there had to be at least a few, and for The Lexicon of Love, it seemed every song had at least two. There was even one 12" disc that featured an orchestra performing an overture of all the album songs. These were fantastic records, and there is a British import of all of them on one CD.

Below are two fun and kinda cheesy videos and then a real treat: the first is the official song video, which features "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and its Cupid character whipping off one of those arrows, and even more importantly, ABC itself in all its tuxedo and gold lame suit glory. The second is ABC doing their lip-synch of the ever popular British TV show "Top of the Pops." As always, half the fun is watching how the musicians goof around to the recording they have to play to, and in this case, the ridiculous upright attempting to copy the funky electric bass of the recording is the notable culprit. And the third is a kindly posted video of the 7-minute remix of "Poison Arrow."

1 comment:

Shawn @ Entroporium said...

Also pretty damn awesome: the cocktail piano version "Theme from 'Mantrap'"