Thursday, May 27, 2010

I'd Buy Anything By...Talk Talk

It's outrageously hot here in Southern Ontario so excuse me while I try to sweat this one out. It's a shame, because...

...I'd buy absolutely ANYTHING by Talk Talk. I'd buy bootlegs. I'd buy T-shirts. I'd buy baseball hats, which I don't even wear. I'd buy clippings of Lee Harris' back hair, and I'd still cherish those clippings even if I later discovered that they actually came from some other drummer's back.

In short, I adore Talk Talk and no flippant post can adequately convey that.

Why do I love them so much?

The individuality. The uncompromising drive to do whatever the hell they wanted, while somehow having the credibility to do so. A serious and bombastic passion. A beauty.

For me, it all started when I rushed out to buy Thomas Dolby's "Europa and the Pirate Twins." The record store didn't carry the single but they DID have a 45 that featured four different artists. I bought it for Thomas Dolby, but I was amazed to hear the self-titled song by Talk Talk. I loved it but it was a bit too Duran Duran for me.

Fast forward to the title track of their second album -- c'mon, you know it, "Life's What You Make It" -- and I was somewhat hooked, but it wasn't until "Colour of Spring" that I fell completely.

Have you heard "Colour of Spring?" After shaking off their manufactured New Romantic style, and still retaining some of their sublime pop, "Colour of Spring" was an amazing fusion of Top 40 and virtuoso improvisation. Mark Hollis was still singing about the human condition, and Paul Webb's and Lee Harris were still laying down a solid groove, but suddenly all these other musicians were involved: Mark Feltham's overdriven harmonica, Robbie Macintosh and David Rhodes on guitar, Morris pert's percussion, Stevie Winwood's sublime Hammond organ, all of them given equal time and attention and yet somehow sounding great together!

And holding it all together was producer and unofficial fourth member Tim Friese-Greene. He helped make it all gel into some of the most unlikely songs to hit the charts.

I hope that the world hasn't forgotten "Life's What You Make It," which was the real baffling single off the album. But did you ever give a listen to "Living in Another World?" Here's a mostly-live performance -- I think only the drums are pre-recorded -- that presents a literal wall of perfectly-meshing sound. This was Talk Talk at their height.

I think we were all confused by what came next: "Spirit of Eden." Continuing their musical trajectory it dove almost completely into experimental rock-jazz, inspired by extended jams and ideas provided by all members of a huge collection of musicians. I won't rehash all the details of its recording, release, and commercial failure (read the Wikipedia article for that), but I'll be the first to admit that I didn't "get it." There were parts that I liked, but I missed the pop.

All that EMI could do was to chop up one of the most friendly songs and make a single and a video. Then they dropped the band.

I was even more at odds with their follow-up and final album, "Laughing Stock," which dispensed entirely with any pretense of commercialism and was a long, languid, meditative journey. What's more, Paul Webb had left and taken his amazing bass playing with him.

Mark Hollis eventually released a solo album that was almost entirely personal and impenetrable. Meanwhile, Harris and Webb had formed "O.Rang," a collection of musicians who performed a more raucous and percussive style of the "Spirit of Eden" phase. I didn't like Hollis' album but I did like most of O.Rang.

It took years for the world to recognize what Talk Talk had done with "Spirit of Eden" and "Laughing Stock." They're now considered to be revolutionary must-have albums, and I've happily jumped on that bandwagon: I didn't have the ears or the musical experience to appreciate those difficult albums at the time, but I do now. They're amazing.

I just KNOW that they haven't given up, and I live in hope that Talk Talk -- together or separately -- will release another amazing album.

Essential albums: "Colour of Spring" and "Laughing Stock." Albums to avoid: their first two albums of keyboard-heavy pop sound a bit dated to some, but I think they're fantastic in their own way...they definitely show the band's ripening potential. You really SHOULD avoid "History Revisted," a collection of terrible remixes and a blatant EMI cash grab which the band managed to actually withdraw and destroy with a successful lawsuit. For fans only: "Asides Besides" (a 2-CD set of rarities, demos, and remixes) and perhaps their "Live at Montreux" CD, which seems to suffer from poor production.


Brian Busby said...

Like you, I first encountered Talk Talk through that odd 7" compilation ep. I liked the song - Hollis had recorded it before as a member of the Reaction - but not their version. Oh, and I couldn't stand the name of the band (not as good as Duran Duran, slightly better than Mister Mister). So, I paid no attention to them until "It's My Life" began receiving airplay. And they just kept getting better!

Yes, I'd buy anything by Talk Talk... except maybe that first album. All these years later, I still haven't heard it.

Adam Thornton said...

Amazing to think that you had the 7" compilation as well! I forget who the other two bands were...was one of them Erasure, maybe?

"The Reaction." I must look into this.

I listened to "The Party's Over" on my way to work this morning. It has a very brash early-80s synthpop production -- all keyboards, voice, and synth drums, with the bass guitar mixed far down -- and there's very little innovation or virtuosity, but the songs are good, especially the title track and "Have You Heard the News" (and the song "Talk Talk," which is a standout hit).

Plus, Hollis enunciates much more clearly on it. :)

Brian Busby said...

The other two bands? I had to know... so risked the cobwebs of the basement to dig it out.

Here ya go:

Talk Talk - "Talk Talk"
Thomas Dolby - "Europa and the Pirate Twins"
Duran Duran - "New Religion"
Classix Nouveaux - "Is it a Dream"

All under the title New British Invasion (with predictable Union Jack motif). Capitol Records-EMI of Canada, 1982.


The Reaction version is on a 1977 UK compilation called Streets. It has a sort of aggressive guitar-based power pop feel and is called "Talk Talk Talk Talk" - that is, if memory serves. It's still down in the basement.

Thanks for the memories.

Adam Thornton said...

Aha! Thanks, Brian! Looks like it was Canada only:

As for The Reaction, iTunes is sadly no help.

Adam Thornton said...

I just found "Talk Talk Talk Talk" by The Reactions, and...Brian, holy cow! Is that Mark Hollis singing? It sounds like a totally different mouth!

Good version of the song. Hurts my brain to think it's the same one I've known and loved for years.

Brian Busby said...

Does it not rock? Your earlier comment about Hollis enunciating much more clearly in earlier recordings is so very true. Actually, I like it more when I can make out only the occasional word or phrase... allows the mind to wander, much like on the very first R.E.M. albums.

It's great that you found it, Muffy. I'm happy that I don't have to go back down to that basement.

Koshka42 said...

Know what I loved? The video for Life's What You Make It. It was just beautiful, the light and the texture. And the fact that Mark Hollis looked like a Muppet.

Adam Thornton said...

He certainly DID look like a Muppet, flopping around with his big gappy mouth!