Spirit of Eden, released in 1988, 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.
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.
When EMI finally heard the end result, they were horrified by its nakedly uncommercial sound and asked the band to make the album more commercially accessible, be it through re-recording songs or adding in new ones. Hollis rebuffed their efforts, but 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 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; Hollis immediately came to view the video as "a huge mistake," and it consequently 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. True to EMI's worries, "I Believe in You" stiffed at No. 75 on the UK Singles chart, and the album itself only reached No. 19; thought it eventually went silver, this performance was a major disappointment compared to The Colour of Spring just two years earlier.
Despite the album's demonstrable unmarketability though, EMI decided that they still had some level of faith in the band, and decided to extend their 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 soon. 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.
Spirit of Eden was surrounded by hectic circumstances, and its critical reception was equally turbulent. Reviewers were sharply split on what to make of the album: it was unlike anything anyone had heard before, to the extent where nobody knew what to call it. Many reviewers felt that it was a self-indulgent, pretentious, and unlistenable mess, while an equally large second camp considered it exhilarating and innovative in its approach. As time went on, responses grew more and more favorable, with many now considering it a major influence on (if not the outright Trope Maker for) Post-Rock, a genre that would become more prominent over the next ten years. Today, it's widely regarded as one of the greatest albums ever made: in 2006, Q magazine ranked it as the 31st best album of the 1980's, and 6 years later, NME would place it at No. 95 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. This immense reappraisal would eventually lead music aggregator site Acclaimed Music to list it at No. 413 on the 2020 edition of its dynamic compendium of the most critically lauded albums. Alongside its direct successor, Laughing Stock, Spirit of Eden is generally regarded by fans and critics as the crown on Talk Talk's career.
- "The Rainbow" (9:05)
- "Eden" (6:37)
- "Desire" (7:08)
- "Inheritance" (5:16)
- "I Believe in You" (6:24)
- "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.
- 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.
- 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 Last: Inverted; the longest song on the album, "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!"
- Not Christian Rock: By Hollis' admission, the album lyrics are deeply religious and reflect his own spiritual outlook, but he himself intended for the lyrics to be seen as audiences as universally humanitarian rather than as an ascription to any particular creed, much less Christianity.
- One-Word Title: "Eden", "Desire", "Inheritance", "Wealth".
- Perishing Alt-Rock Voice: Hollis' vocal style radically changes on this album, becoming far wispier 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.
- 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).
- Spiritual Successor: In a 2004 article for The Guardian, John Robinson describes this album as one to Brilliant Trees by David Sylvian, being a radical New Sound Album from a New Wave Music veteran that shifted to a much more experimental, atmospheric, and uncommercial approach yet ended up becoming critically acclaimed in the long run.
- The X of Y: Spirit of Eden