The sound experience which I prefer to all others, is the experience of silence.
A shared pleasure among some of the writers of this blog is an appreciation for the 1980’s British group Talk Talk. They began as a slick synthpop band, but quickly outgrew that genre. By the time they released Colour of Spring, their third album, their music had become something unique and very special.
Spirit of Eden came next in 1988, and the music press was utterly befuddled when confronted with a real work of art that had an almost sacred feel to it. In my 1992 edition of Rolling Stone Album Guide, J. D. Considine rated Spirit of Eden one star, saying, “Good bands usually improve over time, while bad bands generally just fall apart. But Talk Talk took a different approach with its musical growth; instead of getting better or worse, this band simply grew more pretentious with each passing year…..by Spirit of Eden, Mark Hollis’ Pete Townshend-on-Dramamine vocals have been pushed aside by the band’s pointless noodling.”
What Considine and other critics didn’t get was Mark Hollis’ and producer Tim Friese-Greene’s desire to pare the music down to its absolute essentials. This included the use of silence as a compositional element. Spirit of Eden works, because everything extraneous is ruthlessly stripped away, and we are left with the beauty of the bare structure of the melodies. Just as the most effective way to get an audience’s attention is to speak softly, Talk Talk used space and “pushed aside” vocals to draw the listener into their music. And a funny thing happened. As the years passed, the reputation of Talk Talk grew in stature, and Spirit of Eden is now seen to be the visionary and influential work of art it was back in 1988. Case in point: it’s hard to imagine Radiohead’s Kid A ever being released without Talk Talk’s groundbreaking work.
Which brings me to the topic of this post: a Talk Talk tribute album that has recently been released by Fierce Panda Records. Spirit of Talk Talk is a 2-disc collection of Talk Talk songs interpreted by 30 different artists. Alan Wilder, of Depeche Mode and Recoil fame, is the executive music producer and supervisor. James Marsh, the artist whose distinctive visual style was as much a part of the Talk Talk experience as their music, has done the cover art (Marsh loves visual puns: look for the clock in the cover shown above).
Tribute albums can be dicey affairs, often being attempts by deservedly obscure artists to get some attention. Spirit of Talk Talk is an album of respectful and sensitive interpretations of the original songs, while providing new insights into them. Imagine how even the poppiest early songs from The Party’s Over would sound if they were done in the style of Laughing Stock, and you get an idea of what this collection sounds like. The song selection favors tracks from Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock, with some songs getting two different interpretations.
The first track, “Wealth”, performed by Lone Wolf, sets the tone for the album with a beautiful rendition that is almost liturgical in its plea to
Create upon my flesh
Create approach upon my breath
Bring me salvation if I fear
Take my freedom
A sacred love
Create upon my breath
Create reflection on my flesh
The wealth of love
Bear me a witness to the years
Take my freedom
Let my freedom up
Take my freedom for giving me a sacred love
Other highlights include a smoldering Duncan Sheik/Rachael Yamagata duet on “Life’s What You Make It”, King Creosote’s folk-polka performance of “Give It Up”, an intimate acoustic jazz performance of “April 5th” by the Matthias Vogt Trio, and the final song, “I Believe In You” by Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry, whose hushed, multi-tracked vocals conjure up echoes of Thomas Tallis.
One of the most pleasant surprises for me has been hearing the Laughing Stock songs in a new light. I had not fully appreciated their beautiful melodies and lyrics until these interpretations showed me new facets of them. It’s been like seeing an old friend after several years’ absence, and discovering even more reasons for the friendship.
Even though it has been more than twenty years since Talk Talk has recorded, it is nice to see them finally get the praise and respect they deserve. Since it seems unlikely we’ll ever hear Mark Hollis sing again, we’ll have to make do with Spirit of Talk Talk. Fortunately, Fierce Panda has offered us an excellent and worthy substitute.
Lone Wolf Performing Wealth: