Talk Talk were huge for five minutes in the mid-80s. They sprung from the New Wave but became so much more than that. Everyone and their mother knows “It’s My Life”, that early 80’s classic of synths and shit. This album is way more interesting than anything ese they did. Honestly. It was the album that bridged their popular pop songs and their more ambitious improved later works. The balance they created was bang on.
As great a single as “Its My Life” was for an 80s pop synth relic, it always appeared to me to be a kind of sonic oxymoron. Here are these shiny synths, an instrument used at the time to “uplift” ( or “upchuck joy”). But then there were these darkish lyrics about avoiding life and love and running away from the good things. It’s telling that the 1984 track was the first time Mark Hollis and Tim Friese-Green collaborated with each other. Their relationship as songwriters form the core of The Colour of Spring.
I can honestly say that the first Talk talk song I ever heard was actually the big hit from this album, the grand “Life’s What You Make It”. A simple piano line, a steady back beat, an amazingly sharp guitar part, all with the most ridiculously mundane theme lyrically made astoundingly powerful by Hollis’ powerful, soulful vocals. He screams “Celebrate it!” at us with a ferocity that shakes the soul. That’s how one gets a point across.
That song isn’t even the best song on the record. It’s not even in the top five, that’s how great this album is. For example, take “Living In Another World”, which begins with a slammed piano chord and launches into a magnificent orchestral pop masterpiece about love and loss, and desperately holding on to nothing.It’s a prettier song, a less aggressive song, certainly more poppy than “Life’s What You Make It”. But its beauty is only hiding the darker thoughts and deep sadness that Hollis’ voice just seems to impress on the lyrics.
“April 5th”, the best song on the record, has a shuffle and tambourine intro and gentle pianos and strings build it’s base. Hollis refers to spring as both a renewal and as a wanton mistress, a complex emotional reaction to life as a series of births and deaths ( the album takes its name from a lyric in this song). The music is lovely, but it’s not joyous and it’s not easy.
The song “Chameleon Day” is clearly where things moved for the band, and probably where EMI got nervous. It’s jazzier elements, with a brilliant trumpet intro leading to sparse piano and barely intelligible lyrics before a sudden scream that shocks the system. It’s impossibly lovely as a song, one of my favourite tracks of the 1980s.
A song like ” I Don’t Believe in You”, that starts with a thump then goes into a gentle rhythm and melodic pairing that is both accessible and different from everything else you could hear in 1986, deserves special attention. Hollis mourns the loss of a relationship while guitars whine and plead. It’s amazing how they could get both the vocals and the guitars to say the same thing. It’s accusatory but in the most gentle way possible.
Finally, the album closer “Time It’s Time”, a grand experiment in aural tones and epic beauty, 8:14 of near perfect 80s sound. If more people remembered Talk Talk and stopped blabbing on about U2, maybe we’d have happier memories about the music the decade brought us.
Rest your head, indeed
The band’s relationship with their label disintegrated, and they finally escaped their contract after one more album that commercially bombed and a nasty court case. They released one more album of minimalist jazz-rock-classical-ambient music and broke up. Mark Hollis eventually retired from music completely. His voice and musical integrity are greatly missed.