Talk Talk bears repetition

Which album would you gladly hear again and again? Marcus Berkmann picks Spirit of Eden

12 October 2013

9:00 AM

12 October 2013

9:00 AM

First impressions always count, and they are almost always wrong. This is particularly pertinent if you review albums for a living, as I used to years ago. You would listen once, maybe twice, possibly three times if you were really being good, and then form an opinion, which was as much based on your preconceptions — and indeed taste — as on anything you had heard in the grooves. And then you would write your review. You would then forget about the record in question because there were so many others to listen to. It was essentially an industrial process, and it quickly ground my enthusiasm for music into dust. Music, though, is one of the few art forms, if not the only one, in which appreciation is inexorably tied to repetition. We only need to read a book or see a film once to have an opinion about it and, in most cases, to have exhausted all it has to offer. But a good record is something we have to live with, and we may not even realise it’s any good until we have lived with it for a while. It works the other way, too. If you are a fan of a particular band or artist, you will have listened to their worst album over and over and over again, desperately waiting to hear something that simply isn’t there. And when you finally admit to yourself that it is a vast steaming mound of the purest excrement, it feels like an epiphany of sorts, a liberation even. Our relationships with particular records can be long and complicated, even tortured. Around a quarter of a century ago, then, I heard and immediately loved The Colour of Spring, the third album by Talk Talk, a sort of post-new-romantic pop band from the wilds of Essex who were then developing in more arcane, acoustic directions. ‘Life’s What You Make It’ (reasonable advice) was the relatively upbeat hit, but the general mood was dark and slow and pessimistic, while songwriter Mark Hollis was becoming more interested in the space between the notes than in the notes themselves. This development was more marked still on their next album Spirit of Eden (1988), which I found incomprehensible. Its six longish songs had slow build-ups, long shuffles of nothing very much going on and occasional bursts of discordance to keep you awake, while Hollis’s melancholic lyrics now seemed to veer close to mental illness. I listened to it from time to time over the years, but still couldn’t work it out. Was it a work of genius, or self-indulgent tripe? Whatever it was, it always felt like hard work, and I always returned with relief to the relative straightforwardness of The Colour of Spring. Not everything is for everyone, I figured. Just because every time you hear James Blunt sing you want to rip your ears off and stuff them in his mouth doesn’t mean that someone somewhere might not love everything he does. As the years rolled by, though, Spirit of Eden acquired a reputation, first as a lost classic, and then as a true, widely acknowledged, diamond-encrusted classic. Other bands cited it as inspiration. It was a record played on more than averagely miserable tour buses. So the other day I put it on again, for probably the first time in seven years, and maybe for the 20th time overall. And PING! I got it, completely and instantly. The tunes are there. The dynamics are fascinating. The quietness is illusory. How could I have missed all this? How can I have been so deaf? And now I hear it, I can also hear how this band and this album have seeped into so much we listen to today. Here’s Guy Garvey of Elbow, talking to Mojo last year: ‘Mark Hollis started from punk and by his own admission he had no musical ability. To go from only having the urge, to writing some of the most timeless, intricate and original music ever is as impressive as the moon landings for me.’ Timeless is the crucial word here: by steering away from the synthetics and drum sounds of the 1980s, Hollis made music that sounded out of its time then, and out of all time now. It is, above all, deeply introverted music. Hollis and his bandmates couldn’t possibly play it live, wouldn’t make a video, probably didn’t go on Multi-Coloured Swapshop to promote it. Later on, he made two even more self-absorbed and difficult albums and then retired from the music business. Maybe it was other people’s first impressions that finally got to him, the ones that counted, even if they were almost always wrong.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments
  • emale

    Mythologies by Patricia Barber.

  • Fraziel

    I am a a fan of Talk Talk ( the party’s over being a favourite) but i never really took to the colour of spring. I have many albums i can listen to time and again but if i had to pick one based on my taste as it is today,it would be ” Soul Mining” by The The.

  • EwanUzarmi

    Pete Townshend’s first solo album, Who Came First always sounds fresh & new to me.

  • Jules Wright

    Dark Side of the Moon & Animals by Floyd always and forever. Colour of Spring by Talk Talk. Curiously, Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack to ‘Inception’ …

  • mrsjosephinehydehartley

    It’s beautiful.Thank you.

  • Kennybhoy

    All of their albums actually but if put to the choice….”Wednesday Morning 3 am” , “Sounds of Silence”, “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme” by Simon and Garfunkel.

    “Something Else” and “The Village Green Preservation Society” by The Kinks

  • Ripple

    In that case you probably won’t like my most-listenable-ever (over a lifetime, note), which is Elton John’s Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy. I don’t even like a great deal of E. J.: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is mainly greasy, unsubtle kitsch, and his 80s stuff is only slightly less gag-making than Hall & Oates. If Bernie Taupin’s a lyricist, I’m Robert Hunter or Tim Rice with knobs on (yes I’m a songwriter, words & music). But with that one album he did something that no one else has been able to do, which is captivate me through all the phases and ages of my life (my mum had the album when I was a child) with each and every song. I even love the later same-period add-ons: ‘One Day At A Time’ and ‘Philadelphia Freedom’.

    An absolute tour de force: passionate, beautiful, yearning, melodic, celebratory, catchy, and capturing of a time and place (London, mainly, but certainly England) that is very dear to my heart and that is going the way of the Dodo. It is Elton John’s peak — the album that perhaps Queen would have liked to have made but didn’t. Every moment is relentless and driving in its excellence — and that’s rare.

  • La Fold

    Talk Talk Live at Montruex 86. Absolutely outstanding, can look it up on youtube. Dum Dum girl being a favourite.

  • Yael

    Yes, Spirit of Eden is a master piece. It goes way above any other album, it is a work of genius. This man, Mark Hollis is a genius that nobody understood then, and people start to understand him now. I personally love this album, even if I love all the other ones too. But this one has something close to the divine. People just don’t take the time to pay attention to the treasures right in front of them. Or maybe we need a certain maturity to understand? I am not sure, my son is very young and he loves it.