Friday, 25 February 2011

ABC - All Of My Heart (1982/ No. 5/ 8 weeks/ Neutron)

I think that Martin Fry gives one of the greatest vocal performances in pop here, supported by one of the most dramatic and well structured arrangements from Anne Dudley and Trevor Horn that you could wish for. It takes the listener on a remarkable and cathartic emotional journey, running through a spectrum of moods and feelings, with an ever increasing sense of self-realisation and emotional honesty, leading to a climax of emotional truth that always astounds me.

It's a great single, but heard in the context of the parent LP The Lexicon of Love, it serves a dramatic purpose, like the 'necessary scene' towards the end of a play, where all of the forces that the dramatist has evoked over the last couple of hours come into conflict with each other, the high point of excitement as to what's going to happen and how things will resolve themselves. Over the previous eight songs, ABC have presented love as a series of problems ('Tears Are Not Enough'), situations ('Poison Arrow'), incidents, conundrums... a brilliant album about love, but love always presented to us in quotation marks, a series of poses ('The Look Of Love') and roles adopted.

And then, 35 minutes in, the singer has to stop treating love as a notion, a spectacle, a game. He is suddenly left with just himself, his own feelings, what he thinks and what he wants; he has no option left save to express everything directly, to muse upon the chances he really has missed.

A fanfare, a prominent piano line, a surprisingly sonorous bassline.

Fry starts with a measured tone of recollection. He's telling us another story;

"Once upon a time
when we were friends
I gave you my heart.
The story ends
No happy ever after.
Now we're friends."

But you can't be friends the same way as before, can you?

Then another, dreamier, tone;

"Wish upon a star if that might help
The stars collide if you decide"

A sudden rise and lightness in the voice on "collide", a cosmic fantasy - and he sounds really excited by the comforting delusion;

"Wish upon a star if that might help!"

Some questions asked to himself that are all too real;

"What's it like?
To have loved?
And to lose her touch?

What's it like?
To have loved?
And to LOSE that much?"

Between this line and the next, the orchestration suddenly opens up and swells, a choking feeling, a rush of blood;

"Well I hope and I pray
That maybe someday
You'll walk in the room with my heart
Add and subtract
But as a matter of fact
Now that you're gone -
I still want you back



Remembering that part

All of my heart"

Two things to note here. Firstly, Fry phrases "heart" quite differently to any other word, as though it was something to be spoken of with much greater delicacy and care than anything else. Secondly, the talk of "remembering" is a way of deflecting and fetishising pain, passing it off as past tense - another citation...

The orchestration turns an amazing trick of turning from thunder to sunlight in an instant, to take us back to the second verse.

Fry's voice now transforms into a lovely delicate light soul thing, as the he remembers the forms and rituals of the romance;

"Spilling up pink silk and coffee lace
You hook me up, I rendevouz at your place
Your lipstick and your lip gloss seals my fate..."

And then, a delightful falsetto "Woo - ooo!"

But, however seductively this is evoked to us - the quick repetition of "lip" is gorgeously enticing - this is love as a spectacle, a series of signifiers. We are witness to the precise moment when the lover realises this;

"Sentimental powers might help you now
But skip the hearts and flowers, skip the ivory towers!"

The spectacle is a waste. Then the first really true line of the song, and the first line that sounds as though it could exist outside of being sung in a song;

"You'll be disappointed and I'll lose a friend"

No quotation marks around this line. Fry sounds really heartbroken. And, for the first time, a moment of rage;

"No I WON'T be told

There's a CROCK of gold
At the end of the rain-bow!

Or that pleasure and pain
sunshine and rain
Might make this love grow..."

The chorus again, this time sung with desperation. But this time the line "The kindest cut's the cruelest part" replaces "remembering that part", the singer admitting to himself that that cut has to be made.

An amended version of the chorus again;

"Yes I hope and I pray
That maybe someday
You'll walk in the room with my heart
And I shrug and I say
That maybe today
You'll come home soon"

But he knows that this is a delusion by now. We understand by the final line that precedes "All of my heart";


Surrendering that part -"

The instrumentation disappears, leaving the singer entirely alone… and he succumbs. He crumbles;

"All of my heart"

…that final “heart” is hardly sung, has no attributable note.

As he turns to weep, to sob, to mourn for a lost reality, the orchestra cushions him, cradles him in its bosom in what is one of the most compassionate and breathtaking moments in all of pop. The camera, the listeners, take our leave as we pan out to widescreen, the orchestra as consoling mother, and finally a few querulous guitar notes, and a roughly-tuned saxophone, like a busker in the street… the dream is over, or is it only to allow a new one to take shape?


  1. Not sure you've cracked this one. (Maybe it can't be cracked - the second verse may have just needed more work by Fry to be coherent.) You make a good fist of saying the second verse is a reverie/flash-back to the salad days of the relationship we're at the end of in the verse 1, but it's as least as natural to imagine the situation in verse 2 as temporally in sequence as follows:
    Fry is trying to be friends with his former beloved (they didn't work out but she's remains the most interesting, fascinating person he's ever known or probably ever will know), including allowing himself to be hooked up by her for dates with other gals (her friends say). She, of course, being Ms Wonderful has many new suitors and is well and truly moving on. Fry and his former beloved, then, are both back on 'the market' (so there's a weird symmetry and intimacy between them still) but she's ahead of him as always, and Fry's stuffed. He's not going to be able to cope with seeing her getting dolled up and going out with others so he's reduced to arguing (pathetically) that she's going to lose his friendship and in any case her new thing inevitably will fall apart anyway, and be a disappointment to her,so what will she have gained?

    Other readings of verse 2 are possible including (but not limited to) yours, but I doubt whether any reading that excludes my basic picture can be right.

    Which brings up my other main point. You seem to have the running order of Lexicon of love wrong. You say AOMH comes after 8 tracks and 35 minutes, but it doesn't. It comes after 7 tracks and 30 minutes (the whole of Lexicon is only 37 minutes, and 4 Ever 2 Gether and the outro Look of love come after AOMH). My way of reading AOMH fits well with 4 Ever coming next: what *is* that song? I used to think it was Fry's vengeful fever-dream of Ms Wonderful's next relationship falling apart,but now I tend to think it's just Fry brooding, angry probably sloppy drunken, embarrassing scene-making out (possibly involving treating his own date shabbily and stupidly confronting Ms W and her beau out somewhere - 2's a party 3 a crowd you'd be surprized what gets allowed - all in The Tatler meets Fellini finery).

    Lastly note how Lexicon gradually becomes Ann Dudley's record. Her contribution is a good 30% of AOMH and then she finally gets a writing credit for 4 Ever.

  2. Yes, '4 Ever 2 Gether' is odd, isn't it? I always find it a bit ugly-sounding, frankly. It feels like 'Beauty Stab' has arrived 18 months early to me!

    I only ever hear that song as something of an afterthought. When I listen to Lexicon of Love I'm still reeling from the breathtaking effect of 'All Of My Heart' when it plays... Just when '4 Ever 2 Gether' starts to grate with me then we get the wonderful outro, which I imagine as the end credits theme.

    I'm not quite sure that I've ever really heard Martin Fry as a storytelling songwriter, more as a drama student spinning out a series of evocative phrases and images for spectacular emotional effect, songs about the idea of being in love as much as the narrator's actual experiences with women. This is probably largely because I was nine when this album came out.