Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis and the Language of Silence

Mark Hollis, the lead singer ’80s synth-pop act Talk Talk, handed away final week after a short sickness on the age 64. He had a handful hits throughout that decade however hadn’t been on the charts since 1986 and hadn’t launched any music in over 20 years. In reality, he had all however disappeared from the general public eye and per week later, there aren’t any additional particulars in regards to the trigger loss of life. Yet Hollis’s passing was spoken with a degree reverence befitting a religious chief.

If you by no means heard the music Hollis or Talk Talk and located your self auditioning their albums streaming, you might have questioned the place precisely this music was. Mark Hollis’s final album (which was additionally his first solo album) dates from 1998. It doesn’t make a sound for the primary 20 seconds and appears comprised little greater than piano and his sighs in a room, but you’re feeling like you might be seated on the piano bench subsequent to him. Talk Talk’s swan music, 1991’s Laughing Stock, is equally diffuse, the trembling strings and horns — in addition to guitar and drums — shifting like spilled mercury via any try at music construction. Nevertheless, you’re feeling immersed in an excellent physique water. Their 1988 album Spirit Eden opens with fluttering strings, brass, and the atmosphere a submarine’s hull, each component bordering on the verge both suggestions or silence. It’s two minutes in earlier than a guitar chord chimes and nicely previous the three-minute mark earlier than Mark Hollis’s fraught and fragile voice quivers to life. Along the best way, Hollis and band alight on the orchestral jazz that Miles Davis and Gil Evans achieved, the acidic Chicago blues Little Walter, the distilled sound composer Morton Feldman, drawing on all of it and reaching a rarefied peak in its 9 minutes. And simply as “The Rainbow” coalesces right into a music, it almost vanishes, slowly reemerging from silence, time and again, unhurried but sleek in its actions.

It’s this type masterful balancing act — between a sonic maelstrom and secluded monastery — that made Mark Hollis right into a sainted determine, even after he turned his again on music without end after 1998. As he informed the Wire on the time about that transformation: “It was simply not desirous to repeat what you’ve executed. All the time, you’re getting older and all the pieces and nothing is static. It feels much more weird to me that there ought to be no change. That feels actually very bizarre to me.” So in a method, it wasn’t bizarre that quickly after that, Hollis most well-liked silence over all. Tributes have poured in from the likes Peter Gabriel, Tears for Fears, Fleet Foxes, Vampire Weekend, and the Arcade Fire. And whereas it’s simple to attract a line from Talk Talk’s greatest hit, 1984’s “It’s My Life,” to No Doubt’s smash cowl 20 years later, Talk Talk’s affect on rock and digital music feels each seismic and nearly unimaginable to readily hint. Mark Hollis slowly disappeared from pop music tradition and on the identical time transcended it to change into half its unconscious.

It’s unimaginable to think about what the likes Radiohead, Spiritualized, Sigur Rós, Slowdive, Explosions within the Sky, and generations post-rock bands and 21st century producers would sound like with out Hollis’s meticulous and transcendent instance. That sense adventurousness, the pursuit sound as an finish in itself moderately than a hunt for the following hit single or new sound, that affected person sense dynamics, in a position to lullaby or combust at any second, these weren’t frequent traits for a band to have by the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

If you first encountered Talk Talk on the radio within the early 1980s, none these traits have been evident to your ears. The band was half the New Romantic motion British synth-pop, not readily distinguished from friends like Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Orchestral Maneuvers within the Dark. One journal snorted, “Typical Typical,” including, “the mediocrity is the message.” From the vantage level as we speak and even the beginning the 1990s, hooky early singles like “Talk Talk” and “Such a Shame” sound well-crafted if weirdly formulaic. For those that hear in Mark Hollis a state zen, seeing him cavort onstage bare-chested in a denim jacket in 1984 is hilarious. Similarly, should you have been a fan their skinny-tie singles (or, say, a music govt at a report label), the music that adopted is downright mystifying.

“Through these albums … every one has felt like a really pure development from the place the one earlier than was,” Hollis mentioned in the identical interview. “But … to the primary one, there’s no relationship there in any respect.” By 1988’s Spirit Eden, the band sounded wholly in contrast to itself. They definitely didn’t sound like their synth-pop friends, a lot much less the long-lasting albums that age. The greatest albums from then are dense, intense, sprawling affairs. Whether you cite the likes It Takes a Nation to Hold Us Back, Daydream Nation, Loveless, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, …And Justice for All, or Achtung Baby, Spirit Eden sounds prefer it’s from one other planet. And when Talk Talk launched Laughing Stock on September 16, 1991, they have been in a parallel universe. The very subsequent day, Guns N’ Roses launched Use Your Illusion I & II. GN’R was equally formidable and went past the confines guitar, bass, and drums in deploying piano, horns, choirs, organ, and extra. Talk Talk utilized upwards 18 musicians; GN’R credits 19. Some Illusion’s songs additionally sprawl previous the nine-minute mark, however they lumber like a steam engine down the tracks, sodden and heavy. Even the longest music on Laughing Stock appears to drift towards heaven, weightless even with all of the sounds contained inside it.

The change that Hollis and Talk Talk underwent over the course the 1980s is tough to correctly convey, the gulf between the place they began out and the place they lastly dissolved nearly unfathomable. So let’s return to that picture Hollis shirtless in a jean jacket onstage in 1984 singing “Dum Dum Girl”: what if I informed you that by the 12 months 2022, Greta Van Fleet’s Josh Kiszka would launch essentially the most pround and visionary music the following 30 years? That’s the metamorphosis Mark Hollis.

But even 1986’s The Colour Spring displays that theme change. Their synth-pop facet sloughed f like a chrysalis, with a kids’s choir, piano, digital wind devices, and a pround use area emergent. In the work by James Marsh that adorn these albums, vivid photographs butterflies and birds brighten in any other case naked bushes. “Come mild spring … Gone is the pallor from a promise that’s nature’s reward,” Hollis sings that new season life, and over the following three albums, his phrases and music would extra readily mirror an inward flip.

Spring is symbolic in additional methods than one. Take the elegant nine-minute masterwork “New Grass,” with its stately strings and ebullient guitar line that gurgles up like a spring: “Lifted up / Reflected in returning love you sing / Heaven waits, Heaven waits / Someday Christendom could come.” It’s at a elegant second like this that your complete notion Christian rock feels moot. The Holy Spirit strikes throughout the music, although he swore to the Wire that, “I’m not a born once more Christian, no, however I might hope there’s a humanitarian imaginative and prescient in there.”

Hollis’s music struck one other steadiness, between the human and the religious. “I’m not saying all lyrics should be about faith however, in a means, there have to be that sort factor in it,” he informed Melody Maker. “Silence is an important factor you’ve gotten … and] spirit is all the pieces.” Mystical Christianity and imagery worthy William Blake, redemption, atonement, a quest for purity; these qualities are imparted throughout these final three albums from Hollis and Talk Talk.

Spirit Eden, Laughing Stock, and his lone solo album stand as Hollis’s final statements, a triptych unmatched in common music. Try as one may to fit them in with inventive achievements alongside the strains Nick Drake’s Pink Moon or Joy Division’s Closer, the tragedies that hang-out these albums is a unique type muting. Hollis appears to have reached a unique conclusion, one which brings to thoughts the canvasses Rothko Chapel, the late string quartets Feldman. He achieved one thing that transcends class and as a substitute hints on the ineffable. Even within the a long time silence that adopted and a life that ended within the distress a February winter, one hopes that Mark Hollis caught a glimpse the spring to come back earlier than exiting from this world.