Talk Talk’s MARK HOLLIS: 20 Years Later

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The cover of Mark Hollis’s 1998 album.  What the heck is it???

Mark Hollis, MARK HOLLIS (Polydor, 1998).  Tracks: The Colour of Spring; Watershed, Inside Looking Out, The Gift; A Life; Westward Bound; The Daily Planet; and A New Jerusalem.

If Mark Hollis wanted to show that he was no longer a member of Talk Talk, nothing could be quite so revealing as the album design of his first and only solo album, MARK HOLLIS.  Gone was anything resembling James Marsh’s lush psychedelic landscapes, aching with sacramental if surreal beauty.  Gone, too, were the hand written lyrics.  Instead, if you find it attractive, the minimalist cover looks like something Apple might design as a part of its product line.  If, however, you find it not so attractive, it looks like the label of some kind of generic grocery store product from the late 1970s: “Beer.”  The white background supports a bizarre black and white photo.  I’ve stared at this photo many times, and I still don’t have a clue what it is.  Frankly, it looks a bit like roadkill on display in a museum.  The label on the cd booklet merely states “Mark Hollis” in a plain font.  On the actual jewel case, there are two stickers.  One states “Made in the U.K.”  The other states “Formerly of Talk Talk.  537 688-2.”  I presume the latter stick refers to Hollis, not to the U.K.

As with LAUGHING STOCK, MARK HOLLIS came out on Polydor.  When Hollis had originally signed to the label, the agreement was for four albums total.  Considering that MARK HOLLIS came out in 1998, twenty years ago exactly, the chance of Polydor getting two more out of him seems more and more remote.  As to what Polydor thinks of Hollis, it’s impossible to state.  Clearly, the label knew what it was getting after SPIRIT OF EDEN.  If they didn’t, they were fools, and I’m guessing they’re not fools.

Continue reading “Talk Talk’s MARK HOLLIS: 20 Years Later”

Seven Sacraments to Song: Talk Talk’s LAUGHING STOCK (1991)

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Talk Talk’s final album, 1991’s LAUGHING STOCK.

Even for those die-hard Talk Talk fans among us, the band’s final album, LAUGHING STOCK, gets only a rating as “SPIRIT OF EDEN II.”  It’s not that folks don’t absolutely love it.  They do.  But, when it comes to the history of Talk Talk and the history of rock, 1988’s SPIRIT OF EDEN is better remembered as the innovating album, the heroic but not so polite one in and on which Hollis told EMI and the commercial world where to go and what to do when they got there.

Begin obsessed with Talk Talk since 1986’s THE COLOUR OF SPRING, I, too, am guilty of ranking LAUGHING STOCK somewhere in the band’s top three, but never number one.  Of course, I’ve always loved LAUGHING STOCK.  No question there.  What’s not to love?  Yet, it’s always been—at least in my mind—a kind of final moment, a release, an innovative remake of SPIRIT OF EDEN, featuring the core that made the 1988 album so successful: Hollis; Friese-Green; and Brown.

I first purchased the CD of LAUGHING STOCK (even before I owned a CD player) at Waterloo records in Austin on the day it came out.  Craig Breaden (also of Progarchist infamy) and I were attending a history conference there, and Waterloo was across the river from our hotel.  Stunningly, when it came to the band, I actually knew far more than Craig.  Believe me, this is important, as no one knows the history of rock from the early 60s to the early 90s better than does Craig.

Continue reading “Seven Sacraments to Song: Talk Talk’s LAUGHING STOCK (1991)”

Mark Hollis, Part II: Aching for Grace

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Ironic or sincere?  1988’s Spirit of Eden.

Yesterday, I had the grand fortune of spending a serious amount of time listening to and writing about Talk Talk.  There are few subjects in the world that give me so much pleasure as does TT. For years, one of my closest friends (and a friend since the fall of 1986), Kevin McCormick (a fellow progarchist and progarchy editor) and I have talked about writing a full-length book on Talk Talk.  We even have a rather strong and detailed outline.  The publishing venues, sadly, are not as easy to find as one might imagine. While Talk Talk has a loyal following, it is a small one.  A few years ago, we submitted a proposal—which, from my biased perspective was really good—to 33 1/3 Books (Bloomsbury).  Sadly, they not only felt no enthuasiam for our project, they deemed it unworthy, even of comment.  Just a simple “no thanks.”  But, Kevin and I are nothing if nothing if not persistent and enthusiastic.  Indeed, some might even say “obnoxious!”

So, if there’s anyone in the reading audience who would like to publish a roughly 60,000 word manuscript on the significance and influence of Talk Talk, please let us know!  We could have a completed book to you within a year or less.

Continue reading “Mark Hollis, Part II: Aching for Grace”

A Prog Faith: Mark Hollis, Part I

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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

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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”

Meditative Prog: The Genius of Nosound’s LIGHTDARK

Lightdark Nosound
Listening to this album is more of an affair than an adventure.

Ten year ago this fall, the brilliant Giancarlo Erra was in the studios writing, recording, and mixing what would become his magnum opus, LIGHTDARK, one of the first releases from the then-brand new KScope Records.  Nothing Erra writes and records is unimportant, of course, but nothing he has done has quite matched the flawless LIGHTDARK, in its composition, its harmonies, its reach, and its flow.  Never could this be wallpaper music.  It is music that demands full immersion.  As with T.S Eliot’s Four Quartets, Erra’s LIGHTDARK demands that we the listener stand within the art itself, seeing the world form the perspective of the art.  As such, Erra is a genius, bringing us fully into his music.

As with some of the best composers of the past century, Erra eschews all forms of bombast as he whispers longingly toward the true, the good, and the beautiful.  He is not afraid of silence, knowing that the notes that surround silence, do so affectionately and even passionately.

Imagine Mark Hollis writing music for Pink Floyd while serving as the backup band to Arvo Part, and you might get close to the genius and talent of Giancarlo Erra.