Classic: Talk Talk
“Before you play two notes learn how to play one note — and don’t play one note unless you’ve got a reason to play it.” You hear stories of artists “walking away” all the time, but whether for love or money they very often return (Jay-Z has “retired” at least 3 times. He might be retired right now, there’s no way to be sure). Not the case with Mark Hollis. Talk Talk began in 1981 as part of an upstart pop culture movement identified as New Romanticism. From the start they were lumped in with Duran Duran and early on the two bands shared an almost identical aesthetic and fanbase. Through its first three albums, Talk Talk was a synth pop band, plain and simple. They weren’t without flourishes of inspiration that suggested a much deeper well of creativity, but they made hits like “It’s My Life”, “Life What’s You Make It”, and “Such a Shame” whose sound was boilerplate “80s” all over.
Then after 1986s The Colour of Spring something…. weird happened. With EMI essentially providing a blank check for the band to do whatever it wanted, Hollis and company spent close to a year in the studio recording what would become Spirit of Eden. Spirit was completely different from anything that came before. Culled from hours of improvisational jamming and constructed with exhaustive intensity, Spirit of Eden has much more in common with Bitches Brew than is does with Rio.
But the real coup de grâce was the band’s final album Laughing Stock, its first and only after severing ties with EMI. Taking jazz fusion as its most evident touchstone, Laughing Stock was about 4 to 6 genres of music existing side by side in one place and doing so with such a quiet cohesive power that the abundant silences feel louder than the instruments. It’s been intimated Talk Talk “invented post rock” with this record, which feels a little hyperbolic, but it’s not inaccurate and Laughing Stock is worthy of that sort of lofty praise. It is a certifiable, undeiable, indescribable work of art.
The sessions for Laughing Stock were rumored to be fraught with domineering perfectionism and exhausting hours spent refining and paring back the sound. It’s not surprising that after the record — and perhaps because of it — Talk Talk parted ways. Mark Hollis would return from enigmatic hermittude (a phrase I just made up) in 1999 for an understated and beautiful solo album, but nothing of note has been heard from him since.
Hollis once sang that “life’s what you make it”, and there is no better example of this than Mark Hollis himself. He made a decade-long statement and then, quite simply, walked away.
Spirit of Eden