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Music / Spirit of Eden

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"Oh yeah, the world's turned upside-down."

Spirit of Eden, released in 1988 through Parlophone Records in the UK and EMI Manhattan Records in the US, is the fourth album by British group Talk Talk. A radical departure in sound and style from both the energetic Synth-Pop of their first two records and the pastoral art pop of their third, the album approaches a far more avant-garde style rooted in Mark Hollis' influences in experimental jazz, ethnomusicology, and impressionist Classical Music. The resulting sound would be a major influence on (if not the outright Trope Maker for) Post-Rock, which Talk Talk would further dive into on their follow-up.

Having already amassed a good amount of clout and money off of the smash success of The Colour of Spring, EMI essentially gave the band carte blanche for their follow-up, an opportunity that Hollis immediately seized to finally bring his eternal musical goals to fruition. Locking out their manager and EMI executives from recording sessions, Talk Talk gathered together a variety of session musicians and improvised in near-complete darkness, illuminated only by oil projectors and strobe lights and with little to no verbal communication, thus giving everyone the ability to play as their hearts desired. The resulting audio was then digitally stitched together into usable songs, with Hollis inserting and taking out elements as he saw fit over the course of the editing process.

The result led to a struggle between the band and EMI over the album's uncommercial sound, with EMI asking Talk Talk to re-record or insert new material, but Hollis resisted. The two eventually compromised by releasing an edited version of "I Believe in You" (backed with an edit of "Eden" and the non-album cut "John Cope") as the album's sole single, a move which Hollis wholely regretted. A Tim Pope-directed music video was hastily shot for the release, consisting solely of Hollis lip-syncing to the song in a dark room, replicating the environment the album was first put together in; the video ended up being Talk Talk's last. The band further made marketing the album difficult by refusing to tour for it, believing that its freeform style would translate poorly to live performances.

Despite this, EMI decided to extend the band's contract. Talk Talk, however, had come to the conclusion that EMI was the wrong label for them to be on, and immediately disputed this extension, resulting in a high-profile court case that revolved around whether or not the extension notification had been sent too late. The band's contract stipulated that an extension notice must be sent no later than three months after the completion of their last required album: EMI argued that "completion" was defined by whether they felt the album was satisfactory, but Talk Talk believed that the album was completed once recording sessions wrapped up. Courts initially ruled in EMI's favor, but the Court of Appeals later overturned the jurisdiction and provided a new verdict in Talk Talk's favor, thus freeing them from their contract. They would go on to sign with Polydor Records for their fifth and final album, Laughing Stock.


Side One
  1. "The Rainbow" (9:05)
  2. "Eden" (6:37)
  3. "Desire" (7:08)

Side Two

  1. "Inheritance" (5:16)
  2. "I Believe in You" (6:24)
  3. "Wealth" (6:35)

Trope my freedom up:

  • Beat: CD copies feature a 30-second pause between "Desire" and "Inheritance", meant to mimic the side-switch on an LP or cassette.
  • Breather Episode: "Desire" is slotted at the end of the first side, and its upbeat sound and lyrics act as a brief reprieve from the brooding melancholy of the rest of the album.
  • Concept Album: Loosely so: the album carries an overarching theme of spiritual exploration and redemption from sin.
  • Continuity Nod: The Colour of Spring gives us "I Don't Believe in You"; Spirit of Eden gives us "I Believe in You".
  • Darker and Edgier: The sound and subject matter on Spirit of Eden are considerably bleaker and more existential than any of their previous albums.
  • Design Student's Orgasm: The album cover features a lavish illustration of a tree decorated with seashells and inhabited by puffins and dragonflies. Like the rest of the band's albums, the artwork was designed by surrealist painter James Marsh.
  • Distinct Double Album: A single-disc variant. Side one is composed as a unified, three-movement concept suite, while the three tracks on side two are cleanly separated and cover more disparate subjects (though still centered around base themes of spiritualism and redemption).
  • Drugs Are Bad: "I Believe in You" was written as a plea from Hollis to his brother, Ed, who was suffering an intense heroin addiction; Ed would die of an overdose the month of the album's release. In an interview, Hollis claimed that the lyrics were also written with a broader perspective in mind, condemning how drug abuse is glorified in rock culture.
  • Epic Rocking: Only "Inheritance" falls below the six-minute mark, the rest ranging from six and a half to just over nine.
  • Fading into the Next Song: All three tracks on side one segue into one another.
  • Format-Specific Joke: The CD release contains a 30-second Beat at the end of "Desire" that isn't present on LP or cassette copies, simply to mimic the brief silence required when switching sides on those formats.
  • Kids Rock: "I Believe in You" features audio from a children's choir during the last act of the song, eventually cutting out the instruments to leave the choir's voice the only sound heard during the last few seconds.
  • Longest Song Goes First: The longest song on the album, the nine-minute "The Rainbow", acts as the opening track.
  • Mood Whiplash: "Desire", a triumphant track with powerfully loud choruses, is slotted between the pastoral, percussive "Eden" and the melancholic, quietly chaotic "Inheritance".
  • New Sound Album: Radically different from any of Talk Talk's prior works, this record presents a dive into far more atmospheric and avant-garde material that would become hugely influential on the burgeoning Post-Rock movement.
  • No Ending: "Inheritance" abruptly cuts off just after Hollis' final shout of "heaven bless you!"
  • One-Word Title: "Eden", "Desire", "Inheritance", "Wealth".
  • Perishing Alt-Rock Voice: Hollis' vocal style radically changes on this album, becoming far more willowy than before and with the Large Ham moments limited to the occasional crescendo. He would carry this style over to Laughing Stock and his 1998 solo album as well.
  • Performance Video: The video for "I Believe in You" consists solely of Mark Hollis miming along to the music in a darkened room; it ended up being the last music video Talk Talk ever made.
  • Post-Rock: Widely considered one of the most formative albums in the genre's development, sometimes being listed as the outright Trope Maker.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The first verse of "The Rainbow" namedrops acclaimed Irish hurler Jimmy Finn.
    • The layout of the album cover is a visible nod to Hounds of Love by Kate Bush, an artist who the band considered an influence on their own work.
  • Siamese Twin Songs: The first side is composed as a unified suite, to the extent where the original Parlophone Records CD release indexes it all as a single 22:50 track (the concurrent EMI Manhattan CD in the US keeps the tracks separate).
  • Silence Is Golden: "The Rainbow" features a lengthy portion after the opening trumpet and string hits with no instruments or vocals, with the only audible noise being the sound of... something... whirling in the wind.
  • The X of Y: Spirit of Eden