I almost feel a little guilty writing a review of a 20th Century Masters DVD collection so soon after my comrade in arms, fellow PopMatters critic David Medsker, took the label, Universal, to task for the injustice they committed on Tears for Fears via the same series.
Herr Medsker spoke quite harshly of that disc, describing it as “the most meaningless music DVD ever, taking an extremely successful band, with a large and diverse promotional video library, and releasing what is for all intents and purposes a DVD single.” He was right on the money when speaking of Tears for Fears, but, when the topic of conversation is ABC, can the same thing truly be said?
Well… yeah, kinda. But not necessarily.
Certainly, for ABC fans, this 20th Century Masters DVD is a total and utter waste of time, no doubt about that. Mercury released a far superior collection several years ago; Absolutely ABC, which is currently in print, spotlights 14 of the band’s videos, chronologically covering the band’s history from the indispensable Lexicon of Love through the best-forgotten Up. As such, rest assured that, within those 14 videos, all five that appear on the 20th Century Masters disc can be found, and there’s certainly nothing else on this new collection to inspire purchase (i.e., no extras whatsoever). Which, in effect, should make it meaningless.
And, yet, it doesn’t.
ABC fans are always going to recommend the more definitive collection, of course, simply because it explores tracks that didn’t win as much airplay but that are still top-notch examples of early ’80s New Romantic pop. (Uh, except for “One Better World”, which has aged badly and wasn’t all that swell to begin with.) But when traversing the track listing of Absolutely, there are precisely five songs that were top-40 hits in the United States: “The Look of Love”, “Poison Arrow”, “Be Near Me”, “(How to Be A) Millionaire”, and “When Smokey Sings”.
But… what’s this? Why, those are exactly the five videos contained on the 20th Century Masters disc!
And what videos they are, too! “Poison Arrow”, directed by Julien Temple, is an excerpt from the full-length “espionage thriller” (don’t blame me; the phrase comes from the band’s website), Mantrap, with more drama than you can shake a stick at. “The Look of Love”, meanwhile, is a light-hearted romp through the park, with frontman Martin Fry looking quite jaunty with his hat and cane. “(How to Be A) Zillionaire” is an animated journey through the lifestyles of the rich and famous, while “Be Near Me” features Fry in an ensemble that, when he looks back at it now, must surely cause him to wonder why he didn’t just stick with the three-piece suits that he wore so well in the days of Lexicon of Love. Lastly, “When Smokey Sings” is a fun finale, with folks literally kneeling at the altar of William Robinson.
Still, this whole 20th Century Masters DVD makes Universal seem like a sleazy used car salesman. “You say you want the best of ABC on DVD, but you don’t want to spend $17.98? Brother, have I got a deal for you! I can knock off all the filler, bring it down to five videos, and it’ll only cost you $7.99. Have we got a deal?”
This DVD really is the sum total of what the casual fan needs of ABC’s Videography. At less than half the price of the alternative collection, it’s hard to argue with a bargain like that.
I just feel dirty saying it.