Talk Talk

Colour Of Spring
Spirit Of Eden
Laughing Stock

Colour Of Spring (EMI '86, Nettwerk Records '01) Rating: A-
From humble beginnings as a Duran Duran influenced synth pop band, Talk Talk evolved into one of the more mature and sophisticated (not to mention underrated, though that’s started to change in recent years) pop bands of the past 25 years. The band’s third album, Colour Of Spring, was the classy album where Mark Hollis and producer Tim Friese-Greene started to dominate the band idea-wise, while a cast of session musicians and original band members (Paul Webb and Lee Harris) provide considerable musical support. As such, the band (who also didn’t tour during this time) conjures memories of Steely Dan, though their lushly beautiful but adventurous layering of sounds also shares much in common with The Blue Nile. “Happiness Is Easy” tastefully starts the album with an elegant pop song that includes a children’s choir that actually works. “I Don’t Believe In You” continues with an intense condemnation that features atmospheric keyboards from Steve Winwood, while the catchy, semi-funky “Life’s What You Make It” delivers words to live by and was the obvious choice as the album’s single. “April 5th” is my favorite song here, as it’s a gorgeous track whose church-like organ gives it a spiritual presence. This song’s mellow tone contrasts with the groove-based, harmonica-enhanced “Living In Another World,” the album’s most rocking song, while “Give It Up” is another catchy mid-tempo keyboard-led song that would also seem to have had considerable (unrealized) commercial potential. Then again, Hollis’ quivery but often beautiful voice is an acquired taste to some, and most of these languidly paced songs are much longer than what comfortably fits on most radio formats. The album’s shortest song is “Chameleon Day,” an almost a cappella oddity that sprinkles just enough instrumentation (piano, variophon) and seemingly ill fitting shifts in volume to provide fodder for the pretentious police (“pretentious” being a frequent criticism of the band). In truth, the track is probably the albums least enjoyable, but it does demonstrate how determined the band was to push the boundaries of the pop format. This format is stretched to almost 8-minutes on the mostly excellent “Time It’s Time,” which provides an epic ending to the album and the relationship chronicled within it.

Spirit Of Eden (EMI '88, Nettwerk Records '01) Rating: A
Although far more adventurous than the prior two Talk Talk albums, Colour Of Spring was fairly straightforward compared to Spirit Of Eden, by which time Talk Talk resisted comparisons with anyone else by almost completely abandoning conventional song structures. Containing six long, spacious songs that seamlessly flow into each other, Spirit Of Eden is much less accessible than Colour Of Spring and as such is not for everyone, but I think that it ultimately provides even greater rewards for the patient listener. In fact, though the album predictably sold poorly and almost completely lost the band’s initial fan base, Spirit Of Eden has become something of a critic’s classic over time, especially in the U.K., where it has appeared on several “best albums of all-time” polls. Granted, I was disappointed in the album at first, finding it a little too slow going and uneventful for my liking. Yet to listen to the album once (or even five or six times) and dismiss it as boring background music would be a mistake. For this isn’t background music at all, but is merely music that demands concentrated, uninterrupted listening. Under such circumstances, even the lengthy periods of silence make sense over time, and the album, which oozes a warmly inviting, calm serenity, coheres together as a truly creative and beautifully constructed overall ensemble. One look at all the odd instruments used provides proof as to Hollis and Friese-Greene’s vision to try to create something totally original and new here. As such, it’s easy for me to overlook what may still be a little too much down time, for when the church-like organ (still the album’s primary instrument or at least the one that stands out the most in my mind) works with Hollis’ restrained voice the end result is often a truly transcendent beauty that’s aided by the album’s cavernous production sound. If pressed, I would label this indescribable music as “jazzy-ambient art rock” and pick “The Rainbow” and “I Believe In You” as my favorite songs. However, since Spirit Of Eden is more about sounds than songs, and being that it’s an album that works best as an organic whole, I won’t bother with breaking down individual songs. Actually, without a moment's pause between them, “The Rainbow,” “Eden,” and “Desire” can be seen as one long 23 minute song, anyway. In retrospect, the influence of this album can be seen in many of today’s alternative bands, in particular the “post-rock” contingent of bands led by the likes of Mogwai and Tortoise and album’s such as Radiohead’s Kid A. In fact, this album’s defiantly uncommercial experimentation and creative mingling of barely audible sounds with louder angular and/or atonal interjections sounds as fresh and innovative today as when it was first released. Fittingly, Spirit Of Eden fades away with almost 30 seconds of silence, but by then this highly spiritual album (which at times seems akin to a religious experience) has made its mark, and nothing more needs to be said.

Laughing Stock (Verve Records '91) Rating: A-
I'm going to quote my friend Chris here: "Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock are basically companion pieces. Same colossal impact (they basically launched post-rock), same hazy, languorous, hang-over-the-room-in-the-most-beautiful-way-possible mood, same jazz-influenced, spacey, unspeakably gorgeous music, even similar covers. I always listen to the two of them together...These two are so alike for me that they might as well be two halves of a double album." I basically agree except that I rate Spirit Of Eden slightly higher, for several reasons. One, it came first, so it alone gets points for "launching post-rock," whereas Laughing Stock suffers ever so slightly from what I'd describe as "inferior sequel syndrome." That comparison out of the way, both albums are excellent and they do share many similarities: those celestial keyboards that always hit the spot, alternately lovely (mostly) and (occasionally) abrasive guitar tones, wildly unexpected harmonica outbursts, muted trumpets and clarinets, and Hollis' inimitable vocals, for example. But I'd say that this album is mellower, a bit more boring, even more unconventional, and has less moments that make me sit up and take notice. Again, the band is best appreciated by those who can appreciate restraint and subtlety, and by those who value musical economy and aren't put off by vast empty spaces. Most of Laughing Stock is exceedingly quiet, though the delicate "mood music" is interrupted by occasional emotional outbursts, and though I consider the simmering "Ascension Day" to be the album's standout song, again this organically conceived album works best when taken as a whole, perhaps in tandem with its like-minded predecessor Spirit Of Eden as Chris pointed out. Both albums require repeat listens where new details and hidden intricacies can be revealed, and even then I'm well aware that some people will still find these albums boring. But I feel pretty confident that the hardcore music fans out there, the ones I like to think comprise my core readership, will grow to like and maybe even love these albums, as they present uniquely self-contained, hypnotic sound worlds (which are well represented by their excellent album art) that I really like to get lost within, as they're great "chill out" albums.

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