The Party’s Over (1982)
Lacks the dark “charm” of early New Order and is gradually elongated with the textured computerisation of 1980s pop, but not totally suffocated with the capitalist Duran Duran (or is it?), there’s “music” in there somewhere – Mark Hollis is smarter than that. At least they don’t have a yacht… yet.
Whether we’re hit with the jettison of synth or the attempt of Hollis at being the social sage, it’s doggerel pap for the most part, and even if you’re “governed by the title on the wall”, Mark, aren’t we all? A serious representation of social themes it’s attempting to be – this it most certainly isn’t, but I can take the sound of the voice and the occasional gentle caress of the slightly less-than-overbearing synths when they occur.
It’s My Life (1984)
Do they possess the same correlative commitments as their contemporaries? Probably – they don’t know that, the proof is in the lyrically visceral pudding, however. The more guitar-driven backdrops – that’s all they are – don’t do enough to convince us that Hollis is saying anything noteworthy.
Where The Party’s Over‘s societal ramblings were lambasted with the pop surrounds of the day, It’s My Life‘s more purist-oriented, female-centred themes are on show and isn’t that what pop music is about? The Duran Duran fetish isn’t quite relinquished because they’re “Caught in the crowd/It never ends”, and where else would they be? It does incorporate a glorious hook in the title track, just ask the 21st-century pop aficionados of this day.
The Colour of Spring (1986)
Unlike Simon Le Bon, Mark Hollis and Tim Friese-Greene envisaged the demise of pulp pop as they knew it. Even if the best track’s essence is overpowered by overbearing-but-articulated-macho guitar, I get it.
Though we’re not fully free (almost) of the technological berating of yesteryear, the band feel like they’re aiming for something more, forgive me, “spiritually enlightening” – something none of us will get but we’ll feel obliged to listen to anyway. This isn’t it, however, but the ethereal voice of Hollis is always a joy, even if you need the lyric sheet to get the gist of his, forgive me, “spiritually enlightening” words – plenty of pop stars have done the look-how-horrible-the-world-is thing before, some better than others, mind.
There’s way more scope for music – simply put, I don’t hear computers anywhere – good, and if they never believed in their earlier output, at least they’re trying to do something about it now, even if it is as artistically forced as this.
Spirit of Eden (1988)
The fanboys had an issue with spirituality as music and structured existentialism. The furthest thing from an off-the-cuff experiment, did that ever bother anyone? Not I. The disillusionment of Mark Hollis towards his new wave contemporaries is retrospectively evident in one of the great records of the 1980s.
The rumblings of post-rock it could be, possessing the arid surrounds – and sensibilities – that Slint never could, and not quite reaching space like Tortoise or Sigur Rós tried to tell us. Just heaven for Talk Talk. Whether Hollis believes in heaven or not is irrelevant – read the lyrics, he probably doesn’t. The stop-start, note-by-note intricacy is frustrating as it is cleansing; each of the instruments know their place, including the voice. The lyrics of Hollis are projected but inaudible for the most part, only the “heavenly” bits are let out, that’s the point. Listen to “I Believe in You”‘s organ rise in conjunction with “Spirit/How long?” and the reverential church choir.
The new wave girls took his freedom, but Hollis freed you from capitalist gunge whether you wanted it or not. Has Miles Davis ever been tapped into as much as this in popular music? Yes, but maybe not as audaciously or in fact cheekily, if you want to go there.
Laughing Stock (1991)
I’ve always wanted to hate this record, I really have, and I prefer The Colour of Spring, but I get the final two records of their output as records so to speak, not overall “experiments”, though the overdubs say otherwise. Attempting to emulate Spirit of Eden‘s earthly religiosity, we have an overstated understatement.
The drums of Lee Harris I adore – they’re rushed in “Ascension Day”, they want to get out of there, just like Paul Webb did; it’s an overstatement. “After the Flood” – the drums follow unerringly, even when the guttural screeching commences they never weaver; it’s an understatement. So, does Mark Hollis believe in heaven (did I ask this already?)? “Taphead”‘s Christ references come muffled from the back of his throat, so I’m convinced no. These bright notes counteract the dark stenches of a band in their final moments, probably for the best.
A lot is spoken of Talk Talk and their dissociation to any particular sound, wave or musical movement of the time, which is obviously incorrect – they more than belonged to the tags and the cultural surrounds of the day, particularly their earlier output. Even this can be construed as the foundations of mainstream alternative rock. A lot of the sounds are not repetitive like your typical song structure. “Myrrhman” never repeats itself and “Ascension Day” has a different number of bars in each verse, each time getting shorter. Cool… I suppose.