Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Best Album You’ve Never Heard


Talk Talk
Spirit Of Eden
Release Date: 1988
Track Listing: The Rainbow (9:05)/ Eden (6:37)/ Desire (7:08)/ Inheritance (5:19)/ I Believe In You (6:08)/ Wealth (6:35)


It’s like nothing else in the Talk Talk catalogue.

You’re probably familiar with “It’s My Life”, which was nearly mangled by No Doubt a few years ago. But this band (and singer/ songriter/ arranger Mark Hollis specifically) on this album are miles away from their early synth-pop beginnings. For starters, take a look at the running time of each of the songs. The shortest track is 5:19, not the stuff singles are made of, and it certainly was not going to earn them a slot on Top Of The Pops.

The previous album, The Colour Of Spring, offered clues to this new direction, with more complex rhythms and sweeping string arrangements, but it still contained fare the pop listening masses could digest in bite sized chunks, such as "Life’s What You Make It" and "Chameleon Day".
On Spirit Of Eden, though, they conceived a difficult masterpiece that would solidify their standing with the critics and single handedly destroy any future of pop acceptance or stardom from the general record buying public.
Compare It’s My Life and Spirit of Eden and you’ll be hard pressed to believe it’s the work of the same band. Mark Hollis’ haunting vocals are the only clue that it is. The album is more organic and the songs are of the slow-burning quality, which is to say that they start by creating a moody atmosphere and then build to a crescendo of organic and very affecting powerful instrumentation.
The lyrics are about loss and redemption primarily, heady stuff for former purveyors of the “New Wave”. Believe it or not, this album has been compared to “Kind Of Blue” by Miles Davis, in the way that it totally changed the rules, upended expectations for a genre of music and alienated fans of the artists former work while solidifying their cult status among the diehard. Jazzheads will have a conniption over that comparison, but in a weird sort of way it's actually appropriate.

Again, this is not an album of singles, it was intended to be digested in one sitting. Any attempt to break up the suite of songs is futile and not what the artist intended. It is the aural equivalent of a Salvador Dali painting; complex, graceful, haunting and beautiful, weird to the unitiated. Unlike anything you have heard before.

The next release, Laughing Stock, would continue this concept (it's almost it's equal--the two together would have made a terrific double album!), and would be the last ‘proper’ album under the Talk Talk moniker. Mark Hollis has done some solo stuff, but nothing as strikingly beautiful and unique as Spirit Of Eden.

Shame, that.

3 comments:

Franko6677 said...

This sounds interesting. I haven't listened to much Talk Talk, but I'll try to seek this one out.

I actually like the ND cover of "It's My Life" a lot, though!

Uncle E said...

Yeah, you know, being spawned on the Specials, the Beat, Madness, Selector et all it was kind of hard for me to stomach No Doubt. I can appreciate the fact that they opened the eyes of another generation to ska, though.
As far as the Talk Talk albums 101, I would start with either It's My Life or Colour Of Spring. I think you'll enjoy those!

Uncle E said...

I guess "spawned" isn't the right word, but I'm tired.

Sue me.