Thursday, February 28, 2019

death's what you make it

It seems like an age ago that David Bowie, Glenn Frey and Prince died in fairly quick succession, although it was in fact just under three years ago. I wouldn't want you to think there's been nobody of any personal significance to me who has died in the intervening period, because that wouldn't be true; Leonard Cohen, Chuck Berry and Chris Cornell are three obvious names that spring to mind.

Today's announcement of the death of Mark Hollis is a bit more personal, though, and I think that's partly down to timing - I recently tweeted the following in response to a request for the first album that really opened my eyes to the possibilities beyond the standard Top Of The Pops singles chart fare:

Another album that I got into around the same time was Talk Talk's The Colour Of Spring, which I got into off the back of the single Life's What You Make It. I remember seeing Life's What You Make It reviewed on the BBC Saturday morning show, which I guess would have been Saturday Superstore (though sadly I don't think it was the one featuring Margaret Thatcher), and hearing something intriguing in its thunking four-note piano riff. The accompanying album is one of the great albums of the 1980s, but as great as it is, and as great as songs like Living In Another World, I Don't Believe In You and Give It Up are (the latter powered by what can only be described as a HUGE STEAMING ORGAN), it barely prepares you for the following two albums, Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock.

Spirit Of Eden (released in 1988) in particular was one of the key eye- and ear-opening albums of my late teens, and both it and Laughing Stock still sound pretty extraordinary today. Not "pop" or "rock" music in any recognisable sense, but not polite pseudo-classical chamber music either - Desire from Spirit Of Eden and Ascension Day from Laughing Stock have some rude and noisy guitar bits. I remember being staggered that you were allowed to do this sort of stuff, where you could spend three or four minutes establishing an atmosphere with just a few bits of wispy clarinet and the occasional ting on a cymbal, and huge expanses of silence. Of course the commercial reality is that they were only allowed to do it because of the considerable success of their previous two albums, and that given the subsequent sales figures they were only allowed to do it once (Laughing Stock was recorded for a different label). Hollis has said in subsequent interviews that he viewed Spirit Of Eden as a completely logical progression from The Colour Of Spring and fully expected it to achieve similar multi-million sales figures. I can see what he meant with the first bit (April 5th and Chameleon Day on The Colour Of Spring definitely point to some of the later stuff), as for the second bit I can only salute his positively heroic self-delusion.

The only other album Hollis officially released during his lifetime was his self-titled 1998 solo album, which is glacially slow, whisperingly quiet, absolutely riveting if you're in the right mood and the right environment, but which you almost feel you have to hold your breath while listening to so as to not disturb the ambience.

You'll want the last three Talk Talk albums and the solo album - if you decide (as you might) that you want a singles compilation to hoover up the best of the early stuff like It's My Life then several are available. You might go for the remixes and rarities collection Asides Besides because it includes remarkable stuff like John Cope and It's Getting Late In The Evening which they saw fit to throw away as single B-sides.

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