Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Curtain Call: Talk Talk

Talk Talk were brilliant. So brilliant, in fact, by the band's last two albums they were so far over my head I found them completely unlistenable. Obviously, this is my shortcoming because 'Spirit of Eden' and 'Laughing Stock' show up on numerous best-of lists. Oh, well. Once again out of step with the cool kids. I'll admit it. I prefer pop made for those of us with smaller minds. You know, it's got a good beat and you can dance to it, as the vapid dancers used to say on "American Bandstand." At one point, however, EMI actually sued Talk Talk for essentially not making records that were commercially viable. Uh, I missed the hits too, but that's ridiculous.

So, for those new to the blog, Curtain Call is an occasional series where I pull a live performance from the collection. Since I have been buried in the '90s song list, I haven't done one of these since the Colour Field (or the Colourfield, if you prefer) back in January, but I have wanted to play you this one for a while. 'London 1986' is one of Talk Talk's last live performances, recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon on May 8th of that year. There were no tours to support those last two albums. I rarely prefer a live song to a studio version, but Talk Talk never sounded more alive to me than on this album. That's due in part to expanding the band with as many as six additional players. This is especially noticeable in the percussion and keyboard areas.

I'll keep trying with 'Spirit of Eden' and 'Laughing Stock,' but I know I will always come back to 'London 1986.' It really was the end of an era. Oh, and it seems I'm not completely out of step. In 2013, a writer with the Quietus picked the album for their best live albums list.

"It's My Life" (Live)
"Life's What You Make It" (Live)

13 comments:

friend of rachel worth said...

I love all of talk talk and they hit their peak colour of spring. But a bit like bowie's low to ziggy both a brilliant LPs depending on mood. The last 2 LPs along with mark hollis's solo one are fantastic. Whereas the 1st 3 LPs are about layers and tunes - songs to sing the final 2 are about the gaps and the notes- songs to immerse in

Echorich said...

I will always think of Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock as the natural progression (not my favorite word) of Talk Talk. Certainly the writing was on the wall on Colour Of Spring, but even It's My Life has cues to a direction far removed from the anthemic pop of Talk Talk or Today on The Party's Over.
Spirit Of Eden's elements of free jazz on tracks like The Rainbow and I Believe In You really helped lay a foundation for what has become a very crowded genre of Post Rock over the last 25 years. Laughing Stock's After The Flood is in my top songs of the 90's. For me it is almost 10 minutes of musical artistry that has rarely been matched since.
The one thing that has always struck me about these two albums, regardless of the process of how they were made - and there is A LOT of folklore built into that process, is the intensely personal and emotion power Mark Hollis injected into each song. Regardless of the use of electronics or standard instruments, Talk Talk created both a soundscape and emotional landscape of create peaks and valleys, with hard and soft edges that have always been able to pull me into with absolutely no resistance.
There are really very few artists who have managed to impact me this way - David Sylvian is really the only one that comes to mind with the same level of achievement. I'd even suggest Brian, seeking out Mark Hollis' solo effort to get the most complete picture of where his muse took him over the decade between Spirit of Eden and that self titled solo effort.
I count Mark Hollis among those artists I will always be ready to hear more from - Sylvian and Paddy McAloon and Green Gartside are high on that list as well, whether they decide to keep recording or not.

Brian said...

FORW,
Well said, my friend, and I'm guessing there will be quite a few readers saying "hear hear!" when they read your words. I fear I'm on an island with this one.

Brian said...

Echorich,
Lots to soak in here, and I appreciate you and FORW being civil when I'm sure you would like to give me a good shake. I have never heard the Hollis solo album, but I will seek it out. I'm going to pull out After The Flood tonight too. High praise.

charity chic said...

A band I've never really taken to for whatever reason

C said...

Great choices, Brian. I only came to appreciate Mark Hollis' brilliance very recently. I just hadn't paid him or TT much attention in the '80s, I was into very different sounds at the time and it all seemed *too* pop then. But then, on hearing with new ears all these years later I think I just suddenly got it. (I was so inspired I wrote a little about him/Talk Talk on SDS so won't go on at length now, but just had to say yes! Good call!)

Walter said...

Great post, Brian. Finally someone who features TT and their fantastic live record. For sure it's one of the best live recordings ever - not only for the atmosphere and the intensity on it. Everything else is said by the ones before.

Brian said...

CC, You're a brave man. We've seem to have some pretty passionate fans for this one.

C, It's never too late, is it? I have certainly been tardy to my share of greats too. I didn't really get into the Wedding Present until a couple of years ago. Now that's shameful.

Walter, Great to hear from you. Happy we have a shared affinity for London 1986. Maybe some day I'll appreciate the avant-garde side of Talk Talk as much as the rest of you. I know it's a fault.

George said...

I'm with CC on this one too Brian. I really like your comment "I prefer pop made for those of us with smaller minds. You know, it's got a good beat and you can dance to it....". Some might say, not me obviously, that this was obvious from the music you post. But that's just rude!

Echorich said...

I'd never dismiss any of Talk Talk's discography - well maybe the ill advised record company money grab that is History Revisited which did nothing but water down some of their best songs with "of the moment" mixes. Once I heard the debut album I was hooked on Talk Talk and by It's My Life I was in for the long haul. Dum Dum Girl is one of my all time favorite tracks. Give It Up from Colour Of Spring should have been an international hit - if record companies actually listened to the music on the albums they release, this would have been self evident. In fact I've never really agreed with the comparison Talk Talk with Duran Duran that Talk Talk had to put up with - as promoted by EMI who were looking to hit a second vein of pop gold with the band. I think they were more in a league with Japan if a comparison needs to be made.

C said...

As a little side track here, but do you know their early incarnation The Reaction, and the song Talk Talk Talk Talk? It was on the 1977 punk/new wave comp 'Streets' (inc. the Members, Lurkers, Art Attacks etc.) which my b/f had bought and I remember liking it, but I had forgotten all about it by the time it/they had evolved the following decade! Punky pop made for smaller minds too! :-)

Brian said...

George, I'm not deep... as you are well aware by now, surely.

Echorich, That Japan comparison is intriguing. I hear that in those earlier albums too.

C, Will look into that. So, before Talk Talk they did Talk Talk Talk Talk. Later, as Talk Talk they did Talk Talk. Clear as mud.

C said...

Yes... and it's the same song!