Talk Talk iTunes Tracks Talk Talk + Mark Hollis Official Website

Talk Talk

+ {`O’Rang} + {Mark Hollis} + {Rustin Man}

While other post-new wave/synth-pop groups of their era seemed to grow stale with age, the effervescent and innovative TALK TALK stretched beyond the stars to create salient sounds with each successive set. Possibly underrated on the world stage, main writer Mark Hollis and Co trailblazed in their homeland Britain, but petered out abroad when their refusal to commit to a live audience led to ever-decreasing sales, especially in America where their popularity looked reliable.
Back in 1981, with DURAN DURAN, SPANDAU BALLET and JAPAN operating in a similar capacity, things looked tight for TALK TALK when the quartet of Mark Hollis (vocals, piano, guitar), Simon Brenner (keyboards), Paul Webb (bass, vocals) and Lee Harris (drums) launched their careers. While the latter two musicians had cut their teeth in the little-known Eskalator, the older and wiser Hollis had spearheaded power-pop/mod group, The REACTION, who not only delivered one single (`I Can’t Resist’ for Island Records in June ‘78), but featured on predominantly punk various artists LP, `Streets’ – the song, more significantly, was the embryonic throes of their eponymous title piece, here named `Talk Talk Talk Talk’. His elder brother Ed Hollis (co-writer in hand), had pulled the strings somewhat, as he was the manager of Island act EDDIE & THE HOT RODS.
Inspired not by the new romantic movement, but that of ROXY MUSIC, the TALK TALK team (and fresh manager Keith Aspen) were pitted with the talents of Colin Thurston, who, after the band played supporting role to E.M.I.’s next big thing DURAN DURAN, produced `Mirror Man’, which was released in February ’82. Unfruitful in its attempt to breach the pop market, the ace in the pack was duly dealt when their eponymous `Talk Talk’ title received airplay and a position just outside the Top 50. At the height of new romantic posturing in the summer of ‘82, the quartet broke through the threshold with the uptempo keyboard synth-pop of `Today’. Despite knocking on the door of the Top 20 lists, their debut album THE PARTY’S OVER (1982) {*6}, came across like a more pretentious version of their aforementioned labelmates DURAN DURAN. Unfortunately favouring lip-gloss style over content (`It’s So Serious’ and `Have You Heard The News?’ aside), the American public also became aware of their re-issued UK hit, `Talk Talk’, when the song clipped the Top 75.
It was to be another two years before TT’s next album, IT’S MY LIFE (1984) {*7}, by which time Brenner had bowed out and the band had wisely cast off their new romantic trappings. The previous year, Hollis and producer/fourth member Tim Friese-Greene (keyboards) wrote all the material. Spawning three singles which barely encroached the charts (the seminal title track, `Such A Shame’ and `Dum Dum Girl’), the album was nevertheless an improvement on the debut.
TALK TALK finally pushed out the envelope and the higher end of the charts with the sophisti-pop single, `Life’s What You Make It’, a chunky, deliberate piece of moodiness that preceded their classic third album, THE COLOUR OF SPRING (1986) {*9}. Featuring an array of guest musicians that included STEVE WINWOOD, DANNY THOMPSON, Alan Gorrie, Robbie McIntosh and Mark Feltham, the Top 10 record was a combination of their earlier commercial leanings and a developing talent for abstract rock/pop. Sadly, the equally grandiose `Living In Another World’ and `Give It Up’ couldn’t sustain the same chart appeal when edited from this song-cycle of sorts. There was certainly a spiritual and sensual appeal to everything on board; from the complex opening gambit `Happiness Is Easy’ (with organic children’s choir) to anchor aria `Time It’s Time’, the trio had come of age.
Following the album’s success, EMI/Parlophone furnished TALK TALK with a larger budget for 1988’s masterful SPIRIT OF EDEN {*9}, and the band embellished their sound with an ensemble of musical exotica that included clarinet, oboe and even the Chelmsford Cathedral Choir (!). This cathartic sonic tapestry was laced with rich, gliding melodies, a soothing elixir that drew deserved critical praise, but low-scale Top 20 sales. Somewhat confusing was the almost similar and paradoxical title `I Believe In You’ to the un-associated `I Don’t Believe In You’, the latter a failed 45 from their previous venture, while its lack of songs – six in all – might’ve scared off their solid alt-pop support. If otherwise fickle fans had immersed themselves fully into its ambient, avant-jazz soundscapes, they’d have been rewarded with an ethereal masterclass within `The Rainbow’, `Eden’, `Desire’, `Inheritance’ and `Wealth’.
Their bosses at Parlophone didn’t quite view things in the same way, however, and TALK TALK were dropped the following year. After being picked up by a reinvigorated Verve Records on the strength of a Top 3 “Very Best Of…” set and a re-vamped `It’s My Life’ smash hit, the duo of Hollis and Harris, plus session men (with Friese-Greene on hand) issued LAUGHING STOCK (1991) {*8}. More heavily orchestrated with cello, viola, etc., the Top 30 album saw TALK TALK move ever further into avant-garde territory; `Ascension Day’, `After The Flood’ and equally spacious `Taphead’ ploughing similar terrain to its mighty predecessor.
Meanwhile, former bassist Paul Webb formed `O’RANG (having left the band in 1990) with the now defunct TALK TALK refugee Lee Harris. Their inspired debut album, HERD OF INSTINCT (1994) {*7}, didn’t exactly make for easy listening; skeletal percussion, barely audible, vaguely threatening voices, screeching feedback and ethnic chants saw the pair pushing musical boundaries that their old band hadn’t yet encountered.
Harris and Webb’s sophomore effort, FIELD AND WAVES (1996) {*6}, basically carried on where the first left off, exploring the grey areas of electronic ambience and the cracks in the pavement of global popular music. A relatively more accessible volume than its predecessor, the magnitude of the pan-ethnic experimentalism was often tempered by an oblique sense of melody.
In other words, it couldn’t be more different than MARK HOLLIS (1998) {*8}, the long-awaited eponymous debut from the TALK TALK frontman. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the record dove-tailed exquisitely from that band’s premature but low-key demise, reprising and perfecting the trademark graceful collage of folksy, jazzy ambience and mystical atmospherics. Glorious in all its minimalist make-up, and with Warne Livesey on hand to add artistic arrangements, tracks such as `Watershed’, `A Life (1895-1915)’ and `A New Jersusalem’, rose to the top.
Paul Webb (aka RUSTIN MAN) – together with other former TALK TALK member Lee Harris – collaborated with PORTISHEAD chanteuse BETH GIBBONS for the album, `Out Of Season’ (2002). On the other side of the spectrum, via a collaboration with dance act Liquid People, `It’s My Life’, furnished TALK TALK a minor hit in June 2003. If there was ever a group that should re-form, then open arms would be a-waiting the breath-taking and awe-inspiring TALK TALK.
Having retired from the biz in 1998 in order to spend time with his wife and children, Mark Hollis sadly passed away, after a short illness, on 25th February 2019 – he was 64.
Released a little earlier that same month for Domino Records, DRIFT CODE (2019) {*8} re-energised Paul Webb’s RUSTIN MAN. In some circles the former BETH GIBBONS cohort – and JAMES YORKSTON producer – sounded like a cross between ROBERT WYATT and Richard Sinclair; something he couldn’t be accused of back in 2002. Capturing the essence of classic “Canterbury” through placing mics in improv room settings, and garnering echoes of jazz-rock, folk and psychedelic prog-rock, Webb worked well within his contemplative limits as a bona fide singer – the aforesaid WYATT was indeed the godfather of impassioned cool. Long-lost, latter-day TALK TALK acolytes might think Webb was the closest thing they’d get to “Spirit Of Eden”, and in the sombre `Vanishing Heart’, `The World’s In Town’ and the CARAVAN-esque `Our Tomorrows’ (not forgetting the nostalgic-laden `Brings Me Joy’, and the eerie COMUS-esque `Light The Light’), who could argue that RUSTIN MAN had come of age, albeit a little late in the day.
Hot on its heels, Webb’s idiosyncratic alter-ego chalked up a second set in as many years in CLOCKDUST (2020) {*7}. Implying, nay consolidating, that the sessions were rooted from his previous effort, the record still had many magical moody moments; one could say it was his very own “Twin Peaks”. The former TALK TALK man was in his own esoteric element here, and amid the grooves of the dank `Rubicon Song’, the sepia-tinted `Kinky Living’ (BOWIE-meets-WAITS) or the piano-led opener, `Carousel Days’, maybe psych-folk fans would do well to prick up their ears.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/BG/MCS-GRD // rev-up MCS Sep2016-Apr2020

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