Today we lost the great Mark Hollis, former Talk Talk lead singer and acclaimed solo artist. As a card carrying member of the MTV generation I certainly knew (or, more accurately, thought I knew) Talk Talk as video-driven synth pop artists and, to my detriment, dismissed them. My tastes at the time veered to the awful and my grade-school mind didn’t want anything to do music that wasn’t coming out of a Marshall stack.
Imagine my surprise (many) years later when I was introduced to the band’s final albums, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock, plus Mark’s subsequent eponymous solo effort and was instantly captivated by the spare, haunting, brilliant tracks therein. These are carefully crafted journeys whose intricate soundscapes and surprising dynamics yield something new with every listen.
Perhaps most intriguing aspect of his efforts is Hollis’ use of silence: silence between notes, silence where a lyric might be expected, reverberations that fade to nothing yet somehow still linger. Musically these are a collection of intimate, spare recordings – a near perfect, beautiful sonic minimalism.
These records are, spiritually for sure, audiophile gems in that they require your attention and focus in a sustained listening session. Anyone looking for background music or a casual listen will likely be disappointed. As Hollis noted:
“I think there’s an amount of work you have to do to actually realise what’s within those albums. Maybe “work” at it is wrong, maybe that’s not the right word. No, all I mean is, you actually need to listen to it. That’s all it is. That you don’t do it while you’re doing other things because I think you’re just not going to pick up on it. It doesn’t require any intellect. You’ve just got to listen.”
As a bonus the albums referenced above are superbly engineered and deliver that most elusive rarity – amazing production coupled with brilliant songs and heartfelt performances. They are however, as Stereophile’s John Atkinson notes via a quote from recording engineer Phill Brown, decidedly not for everyone. Brown underlines the point thusly:
“I settled Sally [my wife], Becca and James [my children] in front of my 12″ Tannoy speakers and turned out all the lights. ‘I just want 40 minutes of your time to play you what I have been up to for the past year,’ I said. . . . I then played them the whole of Laughing Stock at a moderately loud volume. Nobody said a word. When it was finished Sally turned on the lights, and life continued as before. She made no comment on the album and never listened to it again.”
While perhaps not for everyone they are certainly an enormous gift to many. Goodbye Mark, and thank you.
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