Talk Talk LAUGHING STOCK 3CD Singles

Let me just admit, I’ve been jealous of my excellent friend, Kevin McCormick (and fellow progarchy editor), for years.  He’s been the proud owner of an original edition of Talk Talk’s special box set of b-sides from LAUGHING STOCK for some time.  The set goes under a variety of names including LAUGHING STOCK CD SINGLES as well as AFTER THE FLOOD set.  I’m guessing that Verve wanted it to be somewhat mysterious.

The cool thing–and remember, CDs were pretty new when this thing first came out 27 ago–is that the three CDs form a complete James Marsh picture.

Continue reading “Talk Talk LAUGHING STOCK 3CD Singles”

A Prog Faith: Mark Hollis, Part I

its getting late james marsh
Artwork by James Marsh.  The moth, either disintegrating or becoming whole.

For all intents and purposes, Mark Hollis disappeared twenty years ago.

 

No, not entirely.

Since releasing his last full album, MARK HOLLIS, in 1998, he has appeared, from time to time, on the work of other artists–most particularluy on the work of Phill Brown, Dave Allinson, Unkle, and Anja Garbarek.  All of these collaborations, however, took place before 2002.

Ten years later, in 2012, Hollis again emerged, writing a stunning piece of music for the Kelsey Grammar TV series, Boss.  That piece, “ARBSection 1,” lasts a full 54 seconds.  No one in the music world has seen or heard from him since.

Not too surprisingly, Mark Hollis’s absence has only heightened the interest in him.

For those of us who love Talk Talk, there’s something unlrentingly fascinating about the trajectory of the band.  As is well known in musical circles, Talk Talk had its origins in punk but quickly became an MTV showcase of glam rock and pop, producing one clever synthpop song (and video) after another–Talk Talk, Hate, Today, It’s My Life, Such a Shame, and Dum Dum Girl–between 1982 and 1984.  They became a standard of the first half of the 1980s–easily lumped in with Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure, Thomas Dolby, New Order, and Duran Duran—as part of the second British invasion of American pop culture.

Yet, even from their beginning, the band was different from all of their pop companions, even if many in the music scene of the time dismissed (or missed) those differences.

Continue reading “A Prog Faith: Mark Hollis, Part I”

Second Spring #4: “April 5” by Talk Talk

tt colour of spring
One of the all-time great album covers.  This one, of course, by James Marsh.

I suppose one could accuse me of being just a bit too obvious regarding this fourth installment of Second Spring.  After all, it is April 5.  I even contemplated using another Talk Talk track for this fourth part.  Then, I put “April 5” on, and I realized immediately how right it is for today.  After all, it’s following yesterday’s Big Big Train track, “The Permanent Way.”

Big Big Train is as close to perfect as the world will allow.  Still, Mark Hollis joining BBT would make the band just a bit more perfect. . . .

Continue reading “Second Spring #4: “April 5” by Talk Talk”

The Art of Rush, Hugh Syme: Serving a Life Sentence

Review of ART OF RUSH, HUGH SYME: SERVING A LIFE SENTENCE, written by Stephen Humphries (2112 Books, 2015), with a brief essay by Neil Peart.

The first book by Stephen Humphries.
The first book by Stephen Humphries.

In a week, my family and I move back to Michigan.  It’s been an incredible year in Colorado, and we’ll be very sad to leave this rather textured slice of heaven.  The year went by all too quickly.  As you can imagine, the house is in chaos, and, at many levels, so is my life.  Books here, cds there, my brain across the street, six kids and one cat feeling the “unsettlement” of the moment.

This is a long and convoluted way of writing. . . .

I should’ve reviewed THE ART OF RUSH a month ago.  It’s written by a truly gifted music journalist and critic, Stephen Humphries (a graduate of Hillsdale College in Michigan).  I have nothing but respect for Humphries, and the more I read him, the more I like him.  He’s opened my eyes to my own biases against certain artists, and he’s more than once made me rethink some dogma I’d already decided and locked away, presumably (at least at the moment of decision) forever.  THE ART OF RUSH, amazingly enough, is his first book, though he’s been publishing articles and reviews for almost two decades.

And, of course, it’s designed and illustrated by one of the most gifts men in the visual arts today, Hugh Syme.

I certainly don’t want to get into an us vs. them situation, but let’s say that where Roger Dean is beautiful, Syme is diverse and eclectic.  Dean has spent a lifetime exploring consistency in his art, while Syme has worked with and in every artistic endeavor and genre imaginable.  Dean is classic, and Syme is romantic.  Dean is a perfectionist, and Syme is an explorer.

Everyone recognizes a Roger Dean painting anywhere–whether it’s residing on a Yes album or stolen by a major Hollywood producer.  Probably only James Marsh (Talk Talk) is as distinctive as Dean, though Dean is better known.

THE ART OF RUSH shows exactly why Syme is not as distinctive as a Dean or a Marsh.  He’s too (damn!) interesting to be distinctive.  Whether it’s a font, an image, or an idea, Syme tries anything.  And, crazily enough, it always works!

As is well known, Syme’s first cover for Rush was 1975’s CARESS OF STEEL.  Peart liked and appreciated Syme so much, Syme has designed very album (inside and out) since.  This means he’s been a part of Rush only a year less than Peart himself.  And, the two men get along famously.  Syme possesses the wonderful and uncanny ability to make the ideas of Peart–a radical individualist, perfectionist, and explorer in his own right–visual and successfully so.

The book, produced by 2112 Books, comes in three versions: tall, grande, and venti.  Just joking–with apologies to Starbucks.  No, it did come in three versions when released in May, but the Rush Backstage website only lists the cheapest one now.  A $99/272 page hardback, coffee table style.  Believe me, it’s well worth the $99.

I could be wrong, but I think it’s ONLY available at the Rush Backstage website.  Amazon.com comes up with nothing when I searched for it there.

THE ART OF RUSH is as beautifully crafted (and as heavy!) as you’d expect from Syme.  The binding, the pages, the design. . . all perfect.  Peart provides a short but kind introduction, and Humphries provides all the words thereafter.

My version also came with an LP size card-stock poster celebrating forty years of Rush.  Whether this is normal or not, I’m not sure.  But, I am sure that the ART OF RUSH is a glorious thing to own and to linger over.  It is a piece of perfection, in and of itself.

Me, struggling to lift this thing.  It must weigh the same as at least 4 MacBooks.
Me, struggling to lift this thing. It must weigh the same as at least 4 MacBooks.

Don’t Overlook Airbag

One of the best and most interesting Englishmen I’ve never actually met in person, Richard Thresh, recommended I check out a Norwegian band, Airbag, about two summers ago.  Richard’s views and recommendations are almost always (in fact, I can’t think of one with which I’ve disagreed) spot on.  He cautioned me that a lot of prog folk in the U.K. have dismissed them as warmed-over Pink Floyd, but that I should still listen to them anyway.

Airbag GreatestI did.  But, appearances first.

Their first album cover—the best in my opinion—could be the sequel to Talk Talk’s The Party’s Over.  This has James Marsh written (illustrated!) all over it.  A single bulbous blue eye cries a teardrop of blood.  It is equally disturbing and artistically enticing.

Before even talking indepth about the music, let me add up a couple of things.  A recommendation from Richard Thresh, a band from Norway, and a cover painting inspired by James Marsh.  Three for three.

What about the music?  Yes, they wear their Pink Floyd (mostly Gilmour) influences rather dramatically on their psychedelic sleeves.  In fact, they do so really loudly.  And, the cover of their most recent album, Greatest Show on Earth, has a very 1980s Floydish look.  The guitarwork could be done by a student of Gilmour’s, and the organist possesses a rather Wrightish touch.

Comparing them to Floyd, though, isn’t enough.  Not surprisingly, especially given the artwork of the first album, a rather strong air of Mark Hollis and Tim Friese-Greene hangs over all in a thick entangled and shifting haze as well.

Some reviewers also have heard some A-ha in Airbag.  Granted, each band begins with an A, and each is from Norway.  Otherwise, I hear no similarities at all between the two.  This, though, is quite possibly a limitation on my part, as I own all of Airbag’s music, while I’ve listened to only two of A-ha’s albums—each years ago.

Whatever influences these guy wear openly, they are their own band.  The musicianship of Airbag is simply outstanding.  For proof of this, listen to their two-track live album, Live in Oslo (2008).  Holy smokes, this is great stuff.  Though only 24 minutes long, Live in Oslo ranks, at least in my mind, as a live recording up there with Rush’s Exit Stage Left and Anathema’s Universal.  These guys can really, really, really (I could keep going here) play.

It was listening to this short live album that convinced me of their excellence.  The two songs sound almost conducted in the sense that Bruno Walter conducts the Viennese Philharmonic.

airbag identityA point about the lyrics.  I know absolutely nothing in any personal way about the musicians in Airbag.  If they vote socialist or if they worship Freya—I have no idea.

But, I really (yes, multiply this word several times) like their lyrics.  The lyrics are more Hollis than Floyd.  And, that’s a good thing, as they reach a very poetic level.  One could easily listen to the vocals merely as another instrument in the Airbag’s music–the singer is this good to be a standalone instrument—but one should really attempt to bring the lyrics and their meaning into he music.  As just mentioned, they reach poetic levels, but they also deal very interestingly with what might be called, apolitically, libertarian themes.  Meaning, they lyrics explore very nicely and intelligently the role of community, individuality, rights, artistry, creativity, and conformity.

My final word in this post.  Don’t let the comparisons to Pink Floyd throw you off.  Yes, the band is rather proudly and openly Floydian, but in terms of skill, musicianship, harmony, purpose, and lyricism, they reach toward great heights.

When your monthly budget allows you to purchase that next cd and you’re in the mood to try out a new band, don’t overlook these guys.

I almost did, but Richard Thresh prevented me from making this mistake.  Start with the two-song live album.  If you like it, purchase any or all of their three studio albums: Identity; All Rights Removed; and/or The Greatest Show on Earth.  You won’t regret it.  In fact, you might even need to send a thank you note to Richard.

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10-minute James Marsh Video Tribute to Talk Talk

If you have 10 extra minutes today or tomorrow or any day from here until the end of times, make sure you check out this stunning video tribute to the music of Talk Talk.  James Marsh, master artist of all things Talk Talk, made the video.  I’m finding the entire thing quite inspiring.

Here’s the link (sorry, I still don’t know how to embed videos):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=kSwgHxMLX_c#!

Art by James Marsh.
Art by James Marsh.

The information below the video at Youtube reads:

Published on 19 Jan 2013

Animation promo for the album ‘Spirit of Talk Talk’, available from Fierce panda Records.
All net profits going to the ‘Rare Bird Club’ of ‘BirdLife International’ for Conservation, UK Reg. Charity.
Sample tracks include music by – Nils Frahm, Jack Northover, Zero 7, Sean Carey, Lone Wolf, King Creosote, The Lovetones, Turin Brakes and more…

As some readers of Progarchy might know, I consider Talk Talk one of the greatest musical acts of all time with The Spirit of Eden ranking as one of the best–if not THE best–post-classical albums of all time.