I was in a rut. After spending the first years of college writing essays while listening to Boards of Canada on repeat, some musical library broadening was called for. With a collection of underrated and eclectic albums, my Aunt and Uncle seemed like a good choice to get musical advice from. I remember spending the afternoon as they threw music from all genres at my brain. Some of it didn’t stick, but most of it did, and the stickiest of all was a band called Talk Talk.
Their name, Talk Talk, was also the name of their first single from their freshman album. Repeated words don’t usually imply musical greatness in my book—it feels like they were trying hang onto the coattails of Duran Duran, but this band is full of surprises.
Yet as I started listening, something caught my ear. The best of album I was listening to quickly transitioned from fairly good (yet generic) new wave to something resembling art pop before finally ending up at post-rock.
In a span of ten years and five albums, Talk Talk underwent a musical transformation that’s quite remarkable. Led by a painfully shy frontman of Mark Hollis, he transformed the band into a trailblazer of the post-rock genre while shunning the drive from his record company to create commercially viable albums. After the band broke up in the early 1990s, Mark continued his work creating a single solo album before retiring entirely from music to focus on his family. The last twenty years he rarely appeared in public, until earlier in 2019 when it was announced that he had passed away after a short illness.
If Boards of Canada were the anthem for my early 20s, Talk Talk was the soundtrack for my late 20s. Each of their songs felt like there was a real personality behind it, and the layers of music were far beyond what would be expected from a band with synth pop roots such as theirs. As they transformed themselves, I could feel their influence as I worked to reinvent and improve myself.
I’ve included a Spotify Playlist of my favorite songs below, and some brief commentary about each album.
The Party’s Over (1982) is their first, and largely unremarkable, album. It’s synth pop and new wave all the way in their production. “The Party’s Over” is the standout track here with a more emotional appeal than one would expect from this genre. “Candy” is the other notable track, and in my playlist below I’ve included the demo version of this song—it the more raw appeal of the backing track on the chorus foretell that Hollis was trying to experiment out of the genre.
It’s My Life (1984) reveals much more experimentation from the synth wave way of life. “It’s My Life” and “It’s You” tell deeply personal stories from what an authentic voice with more upbeat backing tracks, while “Renee” and “Does Caroline Know” are simply sublime tracks with much more muted musical accompaniment.
The Color of Spring (1986) represents a big shift in their changing musical tastes. “Life’s What you Make It” and “Living in Another World” are big music productions and get rounded out by the subtle “Happiness is Easy” and “I Don’t Believe in You.”
Interlude: “John Cope” isn’t widely known, but is another outstanding track that serves as a fascinating transition point between The Color of Spring and Spirit of Eden.
Buckle up, as Spirit of Eden (1988) is in full post-rock mode now. Sparse and moody, the album opens up with “The Rainbow” before continuing the themes and musical style throughout in standout tracks “I Believe in You,” “Desire,” and “Inheritance.”
Laughing Stock (1991) was their final effort as a band. Even sparser than their previous effort, it’s difficult to pull out a single track to recommend as it’s all a cohesive work. However, “New Grass” is representative of the work as a whole.
If you’re still with me—nice work! Here’s a 1986 concert video of Talk Talk from Montreux. Check it out for 90 minutes of pure joy.