"Before you play two notes learn how to play one note - and don't play one note unless you've got a reason to play it." –Mark Hollis, 1998
Had these arresting words been spoken before the release of Hollis’ synth-pop debut, The Party’s Over, his band’s reputation would have more than likely soured from Talk Talk to tsk tsk. While the gang of five achieved a UK Top 20 hit in single “Today”, Talk Talk was regarded early on as mere Duran Duran swagger jackers; under fairly justified claims. Colin Thurston, the sonically-inclined engineer/co-producer behind David Bowie’s Heroes, Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life as well as Duran Duran’s first two studio albums, happened to produce Talk Talk’s debut giving them the same type of in-studio room service.
So why strike the same note done bigger and bolder before? Turned out The Party’s Over was received ambivalently until Talk Talk proved their stay on the pop charts and released another hit single seen in their follow-up’s title track, “It’s My Life”. And then they released another hit. And another one. Then they released their third LP The Colour of Spring and were universally regarded as pop wunderkinds with a voice of their own, separate from the easy Duran Duran and Genesis comparisons; both groups of whom they also opened for. But even the commercial distinctions and international praise isn’t what made Talk Talk entirely worth raving about.
After the release of 1986’s The Colour of Spring, Talk Talk pulled off something music critics and fans alike had not anticipated in the slightest. Mister Hollis and crew took a graceful dive into what can only be considered as pop’s anti-theses: jazz and experimental. Imagine if any weekly placeholder in America’s Billboard Top 20 stepped out of its polarizing spotlight and into the creatively-liberating dominion of art rock. Say those blaring, one-frequency synthesizers were flipped for skillfully-minded orchestral experimentations. Try getting your average mall rat to sit down and listen to an American Idol’s take on jazz; done well. At the turn of the 1980’s, this shift essentially explained how Talk Talk curbed their artistic career of considerable genius at the risk of their Top of the Pops intergrity.
With their 1988 release of Spirit of Eden and 1991’s Laughing Stock, Talk Talk reappeared as conductors of their own space, sound and vision. In a 1988 issue of NME, Great Britain’s notorious answer to Rolling Stone, writer Simon Williams hilariously satirizes the band’s latest entry from the perspective of the public’s eye, “Oh god. Art. Six meandering, aimless tracks. 16 musicians mixing the Mexican bass, dobro and Shozygs with trad rock'n'roll essentials such as the oboe and clarinet, PLUS a cathedral choir - Mike Oldfield, come on down! 'Spirit Of Eden' can only be a wretched excretion from the bowls of conceptualism. (0 out of 5),” only to reveal his deeper, more personal views, “[Talk Talk are] resolute and determined, flaunting commercial rules with fascinating disregard for understanding or acceptance. 'Spirit Of Eden' is the very antithesis of a Top 40-obsessive A&R man's best friend. And that's enough. So (7 out of 10).” Such is the band’s confusing place in British rock history: critically admired yet commercially snoozed upon.
Their evolution from ‘New Romantics’ to contemplative muso-techs reveled in the ideology of “the music speaks for itself” while ironically playing off their own name rather tastefully. Their new sound was drowned in introspection that was tailor made for the bedroom, not the skybox. On that note, it nearly made marketing men wanna kick the office chair beneath their feet. With their stylistic approached loosen, like the corporate shackles from which they had been earlier (albeit successfully) bound, Talk Talk took a profound seat out in left field and gazed at the stands surrounding them.
Their head wasn’t in the commercial game, and who cared? Coach EMI? In a 1991 interview with NME, Hollis defended his band’s unique outlook against the record label from which they belonged, "I think of us as being in a fortunate position here," he frowns, snuggling into a sofa, "But I wish more bands were in this position; everyone would benefit, certainly the public and the bands, and at the end of the day record companies would do no worse."
In 1992, the band split for personal reasons not entirely as exciting as their career trajectory. They were around for ten years and within that scope they offered a point of reference for bands of the future to pick up on. Good thing, too. Among the contemporary groups influenced by Talk Talk’s discography became of the more alternatively-minded. Radiohead, Death Cab for Cutie, Portishead, DJ Shadow and Sigur Rós being some of the more outspoken names, all share a collectively retrospective appreciation of how Talk Talk arrived from Point A and ended up in Point Left Off The Grid. Thankfully the group took its own advice on playing one note before two, and giving the whole world a reason to play the rest.