The Ghost of Music Past: The Talk Talk of the Town
At least, they would be if the enigmatic, avant-garde, British New Romantic/Post Rock outfit ever re-formed and went back on stage. Their five studio albums, produced over a 10-year period, beginning with the 1981 tour on which they supported Duran Duran, and ending with their dissolution in 1991, document a rapid evolution into uncharted territory, where no band had gone before.
From their first, very energetic album, The Party’s Over, to their last, Laughing Stock, in which the band seems to merge with nature, the Earth, the universe even, front man Mark Hollis’s haunting voice is the thread that weaves them all together as a unique body of work that stands out in the history of 20th century music, passing the test of time. While there is clearly a progression in that sequence, each album is a distinct entity that can be enjoyed in its own right.
My choice for more detailed discussion here is the second, It’s My Life (1984), a moody sequence of nine tracks, most of which are meritorious. It begins with the lightly somber, melodic, Dum Dum Girl, which showcases the band’s musical skills and songwriting independence – these guys cut their own path and gradually moved away from corporate music industry control and literally ‘did their own thing’.
Such a Shame underlines the compositional quality of this album, with its soaring instrumentation and backing vocals perfectly complementing Hollis’s echoing, lamenting voice. The emotional response it stirs finds further vent in the next track, Renee. Slow and mournful, with a rich and powerful chorus, it conjures images of a woman’s ephemeral, youthful glory spent on exploitative males.
It’s My Life is the warp core of the album. With driving beat and synthesizer liquidity, this catchy number encapsulates Talk Talk’s version of New Romance. A fantastic live version of this and other Talk Talk classics can be found on the Live at Montreux 1986 DVD.
For those who enjoy delicious synth, Tomorrow Started doesn’t disappoint. The up-tempo but still melancholic The Last Time bounces the album along to the more frantic Call in the Night Boy. Does Caroline Know? again demonstrates everything Talk Talk, with the usual urgency in Hollis’s voice prominent. Finally, the strong It’s You nicely rounds out this evocative collection of Talk Talk numbers.
An ’80s phenomenon but also decades ahead of their time, Talk Talk stand tall in the eyes of the old and dedicated as well as the new and enlightened fans amongst their growing following. If you haven’t encountered them already I suggest you check ‘em out – I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the discovery!
–The Ghost of Music PastShare on social media