Music / Talk Talk

It's my life, don't you forget,
Caught in the crowd, it never ends.
"It's My Life"

Talk Talk were a British New Wave band in The '80s known for one of the standout examples of Growing the Beard and successful New Sound Albums in Alternative Rock. But let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet.

Their members were as follows:
  • Mark Hollis - vocals, guitar, piano, organ; the chief songwriter and idea guy
  • Paul Webb - bass, left in 1988 after The Spirit of Eden
  • Lee Harris - drums
  • Tim Friese-Greene - "unofficial" member in the sense that he didn't play live or appear in photos, but a key player in the band's transformation; co-wrote songs with Hollis, played keyboards and, most significantly, served as Record Producer
  • Simon Brenner - keyboards, left in 1983.

While Hollis from the start cited jazz musicians like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and classical artists like Bartók and Debussy and influences, the band's financial situation in their early years forced them to rely on synths and brought about predictable comparisons to New Wave artists like Duran Duran. Snapped up by EMI, the lads released their first album in 1982, The Party's Over. Produced by former David Bowie and Duran Duran engineer Colin Thurston, the album showcased the Synth-Pop / New Wave sound that attracted accusations of derivativeness but scraped the UK Top 40 with "Talk Talk" and "Today." In the ensuing tour, the band opened for Genesis at a concert, forcing Hollis to spend most of the set avoiding whatever fans threw on stage.

Brenner left in 1983, and his replacement with Tim Friese-Greene proved to be probably the most important development in Talk Talk's career considering the key role he played later on. The band then lurched back into the studio and came out in 1984 with the less synthesizer-heavy It's My Life, which managed to spawn the titular hit single and climbed up charts... everywhere except the UK. The next album, Colour of Spring, followed two years later and showed the band completely abandoning New Wave, while still remaining accessibly "pop". It became their best-selling album.

Buoyed by the success, EMI granted Talk Talk a large budget and no schedule for recording the next album. The band proceeded to lock themselves in Wessex Sound Studios (a former church hall converted into a recording studio) for about a year, refusing to allow execs or their manager to visit, and recorded hours upon hours of improvised material with 12 additional musicians and the Chelmsford Cathedral choir, using incense, candles and occasionally complete darkness to "get in the mood", which Hollis and Friese-Greene would then painstakingly edit together. The result: Spirit of Eden, whose 6 pretty long tracks showed the band moving into experimental, jazz- and ambient-influenced territory that helped, if not create, at least codify Post-Rock.

Critical acclaim greeted the record while sales predictably decreased a bit, and some attempted Executive Meddling from EMI making them release "I Believe in You" as a single led to a lawsuit that the band eventually won and had their contract dissolved. Webb left in the meantime, and the now-reduced-to-a-trio Talk Talk moved to Polydor Records. Their last album, Laughing Stock, came out in 1991 on Polydor's famed jazz label, Verve. The recording sessions were even more demanding, the list of guest musicians was longer, the track lengths increased as well, the music moved in an even more minimalist, improvisational direction, the influence on Post-Rock was larger and the critical acclaim even larger. In short, Laughing Stock was Spirit of Eden turned Up to Eleven.

Small wonder that the band couldn't follow up on it: they disbanded a year later. Hollis released a self-titled solo album in 1998 and then disappeared from music completely, Webb (under the moniker Rustin Man) recorded a collaborative album with Beth Gibbons of Portishead to rave reviews in 2002, and started a new band with Harris, and Friese-Greene returned to a solo career while moonlighting as an occasional producer (such as on Lush's Sweetness and Light EP).

  • The Party's Over (1982)
  • It's My Life (1984)
  • The Colour of Spring (1986)
  • Spirit of Eden (1988)
  • Laughing Stock (1991)

Trope trope, trope trope, all you wanna do is trope trope:

  • Awesome Art: The surrealist album sleeves painted by James Marsh are wonderful to look at.
  • The Band Minus the Face: After the split, the bassist and the drummer carried on making music as .O.rang for two albums, with the third one still projected yet unreleased.
  • Continuity Nod: They have a few.
    • One example, of a sort: The Colour of Spring gives us "I Don't Believe in You"; Spirit of Eden gives us "I Believe in You".
    • The last two album covers feature birds in trees. The Laughing Stock artwork gives the birds shapes similar to the Earth's continents; it's subtle, but impossible to unsee once you notice it.
  • Epic Rocking: Spirit of Eden included a side-long suite, which lasts for twenty-three minutes. Other songs on their last two albums are also generally quite long, with "After the Flood" (9:38) and "New Grass" (9:40) being particularly noteworthy. The Colour of Spring and Mark Hollis' solo album also have a few examples of this, with the longest on each release being "Time It's Time" (8:14) and "A Life (1895 - 1915)" (8:10), respectively.
  • Grief Song: "I Believe in You" was written after Mark Hollis' brother died from a heroin overdose.
  • I Am the Band: Mark Hollis became this around Laughing Stock.
  • In-Name-Only: Inverted with Mark Hollis' solo record; it's frequently considered a Talk Talk album in all but name, and is considered to comprise a loose trilogy with the band's final two official albums.
  • Kids Rock: "Happiness Is Easy".
  • New Sound Album: Lots of 'em, and drastically so.
  • No Ending: "Ascension Day" cuts off abruptly at the six-minute mark.
  • New Wave Music: Their best known style.
  • Perishing Alt-Rock Voice: Mark Hollis on Spirit of Eden, Laughing Stock and his self-titled solo album. Might even be a very literal interpretation of this given how quietly he sings on these records, balancing it out with a number of vocal crescendos on each song.
  • Post-Rock: Trope Maker on Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock, possibly alongside Slint. Unbuilt Trope applies to a certain extent here.
  • Siamese Twin Songs: "The Rainbow", "Eden", and "Desire".
  • Title Track: Confusingly, the song "The Colour of Spring" doesn't appear on the album The Colour of Spring; it shows up on Mark Hollis' solo album instead. In fact, only the band's first two albums play this trope straight.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: "Life's What You Make It".