When Talk Talk emerged in the early 1980s, they arrived as a British new wave quartet that was reminiscent of bands like Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet. Yet, that wasn’t what the group wanted as they became a trio that featured vocalist Mark Hollis, bassist Paul Webb, and drummer Lee Harris. The band’s meeting with up-and-coming producer Tim Friese-Greene would change their outlook as 1984’s It’s My Life saw the band take a broader approach to new wave. 1986’s The Colour of Spring saw the group abandon new wave for more organic music as Friese-Greene would become Hollis’ key collaborator. The success of that album would allow the group to take on new musical heights for what would be their fourth studio album entitled Spirit of Eden.
Produced by Tim Friese-Greene with songs written by Friese-Greene and Mark Hollis, Spirit of Eden represents a huge departure from the band of where they were musically. Stripping down the ideas of traditional song structure in favor of more improvisation with organic instruments. The album showcases the band with various sessions musicians to display a more dissonant yet esoteric sound that recalls ideas of ambient and jazz music. With more emphasis on guitars and atmospheric sound textures, the album also features a much broader take on spirituality that is reflected on Mark Hollis’ lyrics. The result would be an album that was truly ahead of its time in terms of what could be done in the ideas of popular music.
Opening the album is The Rainbow that is led by a soft trumpet and ethereal guitar wails that is followed by a soft piano. The track then changes to a more mid-tempo track with a blues-style guitar wash with a wailing harmonica, a melodic piano, and a hollow drum fill. Mark Hollis’ crooning vocals take charge as he sings abstract lyrics filled with ideas of the world in despair as he is followed by an organ in some parts of the song. Eden follows through with siren-like guitars and a somber trumpet as a washy yet dissonant guitar starts to appear with soft, thumping beats and a piano. With another slower tempo change, Hollis’ vocals swoon through the song’s esoteric lyrics filled with dreamy descriptions as he’s surrounded by a heightened organ and charging guitars.
Desire maintains the soothing, ambient tone of its previous cut while spurting guitar riffs arrive as well as a piano and a smooth trumpet. Featuring lyrics of fragility, Hollis sings in a calm manner as the song becomes more aggressive during its chorus as it features thundering beats and blistering guitars as the song’s tempo goes back and forth that includes some walloping percussions in the mix. Inheritance is a piano-based ballad with droning guitar riffs and soft, pulsating drum fills. Hollis sings quietly to the song’s spiritual-driven song as the song’s chorus features flourishing sounds of keyboards and it is followed by sounds of clarinets and other brass and woodwind instruments to complement the song’s organic-driven presentation.
The album’s lone single I Believe in You is a reflective yet somber song that features a soft yet steady drum fill, a soothing piano, a soaring organ, and dissonant guitar washes. Hollis’ chilling vocals is a highlight as the lyrics tell a world that is troubled as Hollis yearns for salvation as it’s one of the album’s key highlights. The closing track Wealth has Hollis croon to desperate lyrics in his attempt for salvation. Featuring a soothing organ and a somber piano, the spiritual-driven song serves as a fitting close to an evocative yet haunting album.
After a year-and-a-half of production that included notorious settings for the recording in darkened roots only with candles and natural light filling the room. Spirit of Eden was finally released on September 16, 1988 following a dispute between the band and EMI which led to a two-year court battle between the two over contractual issues. The band’s refusal to tour due to Mark Hollis’ belief that the music was too complex to be played live as the band never toured again. While the album didn’t do well commercially, the initial critical reaction was mixed though reviews later on stated that the album is one of the key recordings of the 1980s. Many believed that it was this album that helped started a new genre that would later become post-rock.
Spirit of Eden is an intoxicating yet enchanting album from Talk Talk that is truly timeless in the way music is approached. Anyone interested in the post-rock genre will find this as a great place to start though the follow-up Laughing Stock is a better album. This is a record that isn’t easy to listen to at first due to the complexity and minimalist approach of the album but it’s a record that gets better with repeated plays. Particularly as it is a record that is very daring though in comparison to some of the recent post-rock recordings of bands like Radiohead and Sigur Ros. It makes a whole lot of sense of where some of these ideas that these bands among others got it from. In the end, Spirit of Eden is a glorious yet mesmerizing album from Talk Talk.
© thevoid99 2011