At the ripe age of 13, I declared to my family that ABC’s How to be a Zillionaire! was one of the best albums ever recorded.
Of course, I would go on to expand my listening palette, and for a spell, I’d dismiss How to be a Zillionaire! as an exploratory detour of an immature music fan. Or was it?
How to be a Zillionaire! may not be the best album ever recorded — even less so compared to ABC’s bigger hit, The Lexicon of Love — but it’s not entirely bad either. Trashy, yes. Bad? Not really.
At the very least, the album cover art is pretty spectacular. (Best viewed in all glorious 12 inches.)
By the time ABC recorded How to be a Zillionaire!, the band went through a number of line-up changes, with singer Martin Fry and instrumentalist Mark White remaining as anchors. They recruited Eden and David Yarritu purely for spectacle, and they traded their three-piece suits for … something. I really want to call it ’80s cosplay.
Anne Dudley’s orchestrations were traded for Fairlights and Yamaha DX-7s, Tim Palmer’s drumming substituted by machines. Zillionaire! was synthetic, fake, all surface with pastiche for depth. And it was intended as such.
Fry sings of gaudy wealth, fickle fashion and overbearing vanity. The elegant vitriol he spewed at ex-lovers on The Lexicon of Love was redirected to the excess of the ’80s, and the costume-y image the band adopted lampooned the values of the decade.
Zillionaire! risks being dated — and it is — but musically, this album managed to recapture the tight writing of The Lexicon of Love. The arrangements may feel more robotic, but the performances still had a lot of gumption. Fry, White and company threw themselves into a cartoon world — literally for the video of "How to be a Millionaire" — and came out pretty much in tact.
Except for Eden and Yarritu. They were sacked before Fry and White worked on the next album.
My 13-year-old self may have be on to something about How to be a Zillionaire! — it may not be the best album ever recorded, but it sure has enough to endure.