The Sound Of Music
The name Mark Hollis probably doesn't mean a lot to you. Mark Hollis was the lead singer in Eighties band, Talk Talk. As you might imagine from the name, Talk Talk started life as another pop-tastic band along the lines of Duran Duran, ABC or Heaven 17. They had a string of hit singles and were big in the clubs, as they say. Their hits included the eponymous '(All You Wanna Do Is) Talk Talk', 'It's My Life', 'Such A Shame' and 'Happiness Is Easy'.
The track I remember most however is 'Life's What You Make It' from the 1986 album The Colour Of Spring. The video was shot at night on Hampstead Heath (not that part of Hampstead Heath - stop smirking. Besides, we were all more innocent in those days). The band were set up in a clearing as the night life closed in around them. Moths fluttered against the floodlights, millipedes crawled along en route to who knows where, a fox sniffs curiously about the edge of the shadows. It's wintry - dew has fallen on the piano keys. Lee Harris is beating the drums furiously, seemingly to keep warm. Mark Hollis is hunched over the piano, his breath condensing around him as he sings with the fervour of a preacher delivering the Gospel to the unsaved.
Then at the peak of their creative powers, they released Spirit of Eden in 1988. They determined it was going to be something different. It was. It was a commercial disaster. Only about five people bought it. It was a train-wreck of epic proportions as far as their record company were concerned. To quote Tom Petty: "Their A&R man said I don't hear a single". It was the death-knell for them as a band, permanently souring relations with their record label.
And so Spirit of Eden went down in the annals of the industry as an all-time turkey. This is hugely unfair. Spirit of Eden is a classic record, not ageing like its contemporaries and withstanding repeated listening. It continues to sell in slow but steady numbers to this day based solely on word of mouth. Amazon have it ranking #1,525 in their sales chart as I write this, some 18 years after initial release - and that's in Germany, not in the UK!
Why would something now so highly regarded endure such a troubled birth? Simply put, bad marketing and product positioning. Talk Talk were a pop band. Spirit of Eden is not a pop record. If Girls Aloud were to have written Ode to Joy instead of Beethoven, their record company wouldn't know what to do with them today either.
Spirit of Eden is a lousy pop record. Its songs all follow the same format - quiet; loud; quiet. So do most pop songs and a lot of rock songs. Unlike the standard vocal over guitar verse with slightly louder chorus of the pop-song, the songs on Spirit of Eden start almost with the band members picking up their instruments and the songs build and evolve into thumping choruses before dying down slowly again. Slowly is the key. There are only six tracks on the album. Title track 'Eden' is 7:39 long. Rather than break the mood, the following track 'Desire' clocks in at 7:02. While portions of the songs are full-on rock-outs of which Green Day would be proud, they start & end with a whimper, like life. Indeed last track 'Wealth' sounds like a requiem, a suspicion not doused by the presence of the Choir of Chelmsford Cathedral on the album.
I write this column to highlight good new music I've stumbled across. This album was released nearly twenty years ago. There's a reason I'm making an exception. This is a special album - go out and buy it if you haven't already.