Talk Talk And The Uncompromising Mark Hollis

A recent post about Slint and the reissue of their seminal album Spiderland, somehow brought to my mind Talk Talk, their link to the post-rock genre and how influential that band was on future generations of contemporary rock musicians.

What’s most inspiring about Talk Talk is how uncompromising this band had been to commercial pressure. Initially considered to be among the New Wave/New Romantic movement, alongside highly successful acts like Duran Duran, Talk Talk accomplished to stand out pretty quickly. Right from the start, their intentions are clearly reflected even on the title their first album, The Party’s Over. These guys weren’t in the business to make themselves happy or famous, they were there for the actual music. They just did not seem to care about anything else.

The story around the video for It’s My Life, their highest chart topping single in both the UK and the US, is quite well known, but stories like this always do deserve a recap. The video was shot twice, the first version directed by the acclaimed British director Tim Pope, mostly known for the music videos he made with The Cure, depicted Mark Hollis wandering around the London Zoo, integrated with documentary footage of wildlife animals. Hollis keeps his mouth purposely shut throughout the whole video and animated black lines and shapes often appear over it. This gimmick is supposed to be a statement against the clich├ęs of lip-synching, commonly seen in the majority of music videos at that time. As expected, EMI didn’t like it, so they reshot it, this time with the original video projected on a screen behind Hollis and the band, who intentionally lip-synched and clowned the hell out of the song, gently biting back the hand that fed them.

That second version of the video we cite here, because it may not be the band’s original vision, it sure is fun though watching them mocking the industry in (according to Creation founder and music journalist, Alan McGee) “a total piss-take of lip-synching” performance.

Talk Talk’s later period marked their imminent commercial suicide. Leaving behind what was left to still place them among the New Wave movement, they released the surprisingly odd The Colour Of Spring and two years later, Spirit Of Eden, the second one without doing any touring or music videos to promote the album. EMI even attempted to sue them because the album was not “commercially satisfactory”! A tense period between the band and the label followed. Talk Talk left the EMI, who then released a compilation and a remixes album without the band’s permission. The group went on to sign with Polydor and released their what was to be last album, the mind-bending, also minimalist Laughing Stock, serving perfectly as a swansong to what was a brilliant, uncompromising career. These last two albums was the band helping shape up, without even knowing at the time, what later followed to be known as the post-rock genre.

Mark Hollis only returned once more with a solo album in 1998 and retired from the music industry to focus on his family, establishing himself, his band and his body of work to be among the most rare examples of full of guts individuals who never gave up on their artistic aspirations to get richer and more famous, like he could easily have done. He went aside quietly, as quiet as he had been when he was still creating, without caring about whether or not he had anything to prove to anyone.

Recommended listening

> Talk Talk – The Colour Of Spring (1986)

> Talk Talk – Spirit Of Eden (1988)

> Talk Talk – Laughing Stock (1991)

> Mark Hollis – Mark Hollis (1998)

> Talk Talk – Live At Montreaux 1986 (video) (2008)

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