The news that Talk Talk front man Mark Hollis has died at the age of 64 filled me with sadness.
I wrote about Hollis and Talk Talk six years ago - inspired by a mammoth listening session. The words I wrote then seem as apt now as they did then:
Talk Talk: The Colour of Spring, The Spirit of Eden, Laughing Stock; Mark Hollis
It’s hard to listen to the last four Talk Talk albums (and I have to include Mark Hollis’s solo record as a Talk Talk album) and not lapse into music critic pretension. Fuck, that doesn’t mean they’re not good. Far from it. I’d argue that they’re about as close to perfection as any four albums in rock history.
The beauty of these four records is that they make a perfect set. It’s like listening to the band evolving into the perfect version of what it wants to be and yet also slowly dissolving away into silence. Literally.
Listening back, it’s hard not to think that this was exactly what Mark Hollis wanted. His solo record is an acoustic record filled with long quiet periods and ending with 20 seconds of silence before logging off.
“I love sound. And I love silence. And in a way, I love silence more,” Hollis said in the press release that accompanied his final release. It’s an odd kind of mission statement for a musician but it also makes perfect sense.
Talk Talk spent the first half of the ’80s inhabiting similar ground to new romantics such as Duran Duran before really hitting a groove with 1986’s The Colour of Spring. While stylistically still of the ’80s, the grooves are big and the sound expansive. It was the record that contained their biggest single (Life’s What You Make It) and it was the biggest they would ever sound. There are hints of what was to come in quiet spots such as Chameleon Day. After this it was a case of slowly disappearing.
Spirit of Eden followed two years later and is, perhaps, the perfect amalgam of funky Talk Talk and ambient Talk Talk. It was followed in 1991 by Laughing Stock, a truly astonishing record, which was so painful to make that the band disintegrated. It is an ambient record played on guitar, bass, drums, orchestra and whatever else the band could find.
Mark Hollis is played entirely on acoustic instruments. Play it on a good hi-fi and it sounds like the band is in the same room as you. Much of the time his voice is indecipherable but it doesn’t matter. It still contains a million emotions (although none of them sound too cheery).
After the 20 seconds of silence that close the record, Hollis disappeared. Quite literally. He’d lost his band but he had made the record he always wanted to make. It was like he had accomplished his mission. He had taken his sound as far as it could go. He had taken it into silence.
It was released in 1998. He conducted a couple of interviews and has not uttered another sentence in public since. Apparently he appeared very briefly on an UNKLE album and also played some piano on a record by his former bandmates. But that’s it. He’s done. I kinda respect that. Mission accomplished. Over and out.