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Music / Talk Talk

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From left to right: Lee Harris, Mark Hollis, Paul Webb (in 1984).
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-turned-Post-Rock 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 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. Friese-Greene returned to a solo career while moonlighting as an occasional producer (such as on Lush's Sweetness and Light EP).

On February 24, 2019, reports emerged that Hollis had passed away at the age of 64. The reports were confirmed two days later by his former manager, who specified that Hollis had died of "a short illness from which he never recovered." No exact date of death has been specified, but the illness was later confirmed in 2022 to be cancer; Hollis will be dearly missed.

Studio Discography:

  • The Party's Over (1982)
  • It's My Life (1984)
  • The Colour of Spring (1986)
  • Spirit of Eden (1988)
  • Laughing Stock (1991)
  • Mark Hollis (1998)note 

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

  • 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.
  • Beat: CD copies of Spirit of Eden feature 30 seconds of silence where the side switch on a vinyl or cassette tape would be.
  • Book Ends: The Party's Over opens with the self-titled track "Talk Talk". Mark Hollis' 1998 solo album, generally treated as an epilogue to Laughing Stock, is a Self-Titled Album.
  • Continuity Nod: They have a few.
    • The band's first single was called "Mirror Man", their final album opens with "Myrrhman". Likewise, the title of "Runeii" on Laughing Stock harks back to "Renée" from It's My Life.
    • The Colour of Spring gives us "I Don't Believe in You"; Spirit of Eden gives us "I Believe in You".
    • The first track on Hollis's solo album is called "The Colour of Spring".
    • The last two album covers feature birds in trees; the reuse of the "tree of birds" motif on Laughing Stock was an intentional move by Hollis, meant to allude to the album's continuation of Spirit of Eden's musical and thematic motifs. The Laughing Stock artwork additionally lays out the birds so that they form the shape of the Earth's continents, with the tree being in the shape of a globe; it's subtle, but impossible to unsee once you notice it.
  • Darker and Edgier: Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock were each noticeably more dour in tone than the album that preceded it.
  • Design Student's Orgasm: Damn near everything the band has ever released fits this trope due to featuring artwork by James Marsh.
  • "Double, Double" Title: The first song on their first album, The Party's Over, is called "Talk Talk". By extension this also applies to the band name.
  • Drugs Are Bad: "I Believe in You" is an anti-heroin song:
    I've seen heroin for myself
    On the street so young laying wasted
    Enough ain't it enough
    Crippled world
    I just can't bring myself to see it starting
  • Epic Rocking: Spirit of Eden included a side-long suite of the first three songs, 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.
  • Fading into the Next Song: Laughing Stock features a 30 second overlap between "After the Flood" and "Taphead" on all CD copies except for the US version released by Polydor, in which they are unmixed.
  • Grief Song: "I Believe in You" was written by Hollis as a plea to his brother to quit heroin. His brother Ed died from complications of his drug addiction the same month that the single (and album that it was from) was released. Hollis shrugged off the connection in some interviews.
  • I Am the Band: Mark Hollis became this around Laughing Stock, despite Lee Harris being present on the album. Hollis' self-titled solo album years later was even planned to be released under the Talk Talk name at first.
  • In Name Only: Inverted with Mark Hollis' solo record. It was originally going to be released as a Talk Talk album called Mountains of the Moon, but was released under Hollis' own name instead. It easily fits alongside the two albums that proceeded it.
  • Kids Rock: "Happiness Is Easy" features a choir of schoolchildren during the choruses.
  • Longest Song Goes First: Spirit of Eden opens with the nine-minute "The Rainbow". The next-longest track, "Desire", just barely fails to crack seven.
  • Longest Song Goes Last:
    • The Colour of Spring closes out with the 8:14 "Time It's Time". The next-longest track, "Living in Another World", just barely falls short of seven minutes.
    • Actually inverted by Laughing Stock, which ends with "Runeii", the shortest song on the album.
  • New Sound Album: The Colour of Spring ditches the synths in favor of a dense, organic art pop sound. Spirit of Eden takes things a step further by eschewing traditional song structures in favor of an impressionist mix of Classical Music and Jazz Fusion that would lay the groundwork for Post-Rock.
  • New Wave Music: Their best known style among the mainstream consciousness. Among fans and more devoted music listeners though, it's their status as one of the founding bands of the Post-Rock genre that makes them stand out. The discrepancy is mainly down to post-rock having never been a very accessible (or well-known) genre from the get-go.
  • No Ending: "Ascension Day" cuts off abruptly at the six-minute mark.
  • Pep-Talk Song: "Life's What You Make It" is about encouraging someone to forget the past and focus on the future.
  • 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 Spiderland by Slint (which was coincidentally released nearly half a year before Laughing Stock). When music journalist Simon Reynolds coined the term "post-rock", it was in a review of Bark Psychosis' 1994 album Hex in which he was directly comparing that album to Spirit of Eden. Unbuilt Trope applies to a certain extent here.
  • Religion Rant Song: "Happiness is Easy" is about how clergy justify atrocities in the name of religion.
  • Siamese Twin Songs: "The Rainbow", "Eden", and "Desire", which form the suite that takes up half of Spirit of Eden. This extends to the point where they're all sequenced as a single 23-minute track on the original 1988 Parlophone Records CD.
  • Title Track: Confusingly, the song "The Colour of Spring" doesn't appear on the album The Colour of Spring (which does contain the phrase in the lyrics of the song "April 5th"); it shows up on Mark Hollis' solo album instead. In fact, only the band's first two albums play this trope straight.
  • Unbuilt Trope: Though Talk Talk are widely considered to be the originators of Post-Rock (along with Slint), they sound nothing like the other bands which are given that moniker. Laughing Stock in particular is just as much jazz as it is rock if not more, and the intense crescendos associated with the genre are rare in their work. Mark Hollis's solo album isn't even rock, but rather completely acoustic, minimalist folk jazz.
  • The X of Y: The Colour of Spring and Spirit of Eden.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: "Life's What You Make It".