EMI, 1988; available
6 tracks, 41:00
Polydor, 1991; available
6 tracks, 43:30
Mention Talk Talk and the average person either thinks you repeated yourself or recalls bouncy-yet-brainy 80s synthpop hit "It's My Life". The albums I'm reviewing here are light years away from that hit. The lyrics are still extraordinarily intelligent, and the music still impeccable, but there's not a lick of synthesizer to be found. After the transitional COLOUR OF SPRING, Mark Hollis and Tim Friese-Greene had enough money to afford a massive ensemble. Everything from organ and guitar to shozygs and harmonium shows up, none of which sounds extraneous or overly experimental. SPIRIT OF EDEN opens with a lone trumpet that is soon accompanied by a fragile string section. After two minutes of gentle drift and ambiance, a twangy guitar comes in, followed by a steady beat and plenty of atmosphere. Hollis' still-expressive (but extremely hushed compared to earlier works) voice soon weaves into the mix, functioning more as another instrument than any sort of lead. This glorious ten-minute slice of perfection is part of a three song suite, leading into the equally gorgeous "Eden" and the slightly more raucous "Desire". As many have pointed out, the next three tracks (side two on the vinyl) are not quite up to the same level, but they are tracks that any lesser band would kill to call their own. "Inheritance" revolves around a reverbed piano, cascading organ, spare horns and woodwinds, and Hollis' touching voice. "I Believe In You" was the only possible choice for a single, which was a bad idea; this is an album best experienced as one piece. An anti-heroin song, it lacks any sort of gloom, instead featuring Hollis' heavenly vocals offering an escape from the hell of addiction. When the children's choir comes in, the tears follow shortly after. This may be one of the most powerful songs ever written, regardless of the topic. "Wealth" is a mostly organ-dominated come down after the majesty of "I Believe In You", and a fitting end to this stunner.
Three years later, Talk Talk delivered LAUGHING STOCK, which ditched the idea of a side one suite and thus flows slightly better than SPIRIT OF EDEN. Opener "Myrrhman" is almost inaudible at first, then a gently strummed guitar and Hollis' voice break the silence. The track ends on a lovely but melancholy duet of cello and piano. Next up is "Ascension Day", which features a funky beat and Hollis' self-damning lyrics ("Weighted my hand/Kill the bet/I'll burn on Judgement Day"). One of the closest tracks to actual "rock" on the album, it ends abruptly, followed by the near-ten minute joyride of "After The Flood". This masterpiece features a soul-searing organ, Hollis' pained-yet-optimistic vocals, and some of the most gorgeous instrumental interplay ever put to tape. Side two is hard pressed to follow up, and surprisingly is every bit of the same quality. "Taphead" and the closing "Runeii" are beautiful examples of ambient rock, and "New Grass" is ten minutes of gorgeous jazzy drift and flow. By the time the album is over, you feel as though you've been taken on a very personal and spiritual journey, regardless of your religious views. On that note, some of the lyrics on both albums lean towards the religious side, but Hollis has gone on record to say it's more of a humanitarian statement than a religious one per se.
Signalling the beginning of post-rock, SPIRIT OF EDEN and LAUGHING STOCK were ahead of their time by at least five years. Many post-rock bands that have emerged since take these albums as the standard by which to live up to, which is smart, since many of said bands will never better this double dose of musical perfection. Buy both on sight!