Talk Talk – 1988

Sometimes, things are better left unsaid. In 1988, Tim Pope and Mark Hollis set out to create a video for an edited down version of “I Believe In You”. By then, so much of Talk Talk’s history had been suddenly rewritten and torn asunder. In this last bit of acquiescence, Mark was attempting to portray what he didn’t believe was portrayable. His record company after years of waiting and spending countless monies on the recording of Spirit of Eden wanted to recoup some of the monstrous wealth they’d believe Talk Talk had left off the table when they came back with this new sound. By then, Mark knew the extent of what they’d done. Forgoing touring, performing, and marketing in the wake of its release, they had no idea, or concern with, how to promote it.

Sitting down in front of Tim’s camera he kept ruminating in his mind the lyrics to this magnificent elegiac song. With those lyrics, ones that were indecipherable to most listeners, but to him were thoroughly comprehendible, he’d hope to convey through his eyes what kind of emotions it stirred in him. Struggling to do so, he felt stupid having to do this. Tim, a simpatico friend in real life, did the best he could to illuminate Mark’s hopeful vision residing in this searing anti-drug tome.
Somewhere, around the 2:20 minute, as you see the spot lighting take hold of that graceful mood Mark was aiming for more and more in his music, as a listener of the whole album, its perhaps one of the most telling and heartening moments ever for it. However, as Mark and most new listeners realized, this wasn’t the medium to portray a song that was even more powerful when placed in its proper context. Edited down from its original 6 minute length, it gave little preparation for the unclassifiable neo-folk music that waited them in the full length album. One more final live appearance for Talk Talk shortly followed, and off into the ether went any final appearance of who or what audiences believed this band to be.

When Talk Talk finished recording Spirit of Eden in 1988 they were releasing it to a market that had been far removed from the history they were working with. Drawing influences from Miles’ Sketches of Spain, Traffic’s Mr. Fantasy, Can, and Debussy, amongst many others in the same vein, they were setting on a course to explore dynamics. Working with Phill Brown, their producer, to create an environment where they could feel comfortable and relaxed free from the constraints of a normal studio, they’d hunker down in a recording space outfitted with candles, oil projectors, incense, and few, if any, normal light coming through.

Spirit of Eden album cover.

In this placid environment, free from any distractions of all kinds (corporal and temporal), they’d perform hours on end with no restrictions other than to play what they feel. Increasingly so, they felt that dated electronics and instrument were no longer needed to constrain them anymore. When the first strains of modernity, came through at the end, through Mark’s and Tim Griese’s digital editing to take the most genuine moments of hope, desire, and that vaguest of words faith. For them, it was faith that most genuine moments of spontaneity captured on tape wouldn’t be found through constant, rote rehearsal and lacing the recording with needless ornamentation. Freedom, the sonic kind, is at its truest when you have space to place that original thought.

Six tracks, all flowing into each other, all carrying through a magnificent vision of humanist values, positing the question: if one takes more than they need what is one truly accomplishing? That strength through humility was something they were starting to unravel. As each member started to become part of the same current to an overriding melody that’s when they were realizing the wealth of sacrifice. Songs they couldn’t perform live, or recreate out of context, liberated them to think of more important things, of what exactly was more important at that exact moment. Miles once said about recording “Concierto de Aranjuez” from Sketches of Spain:

“The thing I have to do now is make things connect, make them mean something in what I play around it.” Davis thought the concerto’s adagio melody was “so strong” that “the softer you play it, the stronger it gets, and the stronger you play it, the weaker it gets”, and Evans concurred.

Mark said during his time recording this album:

“Every time I record an album something important happens in my life. During the recording of The Colour of Spring I got married. Maybe the next time I’ll be a grandfather.

It was during this time, recording Spirit of Eden, that he had his first child, Freddie. Now free from having to live a life he didn’t desire, and realizing that certain sacrifices weren’t, new unclassifiable things sprouted to enrich all this open space. Spirit of Eden could have been an end to Talk Talk as a band, but there was a rainbow after the flood. And that, that’s a vision you can’t just gleam completely from one track, time, or this one album. However, that’s something you’ll get the full picture of soon though…

If you have a late night, and you feel calm, free from all distractions, play Spirit of Eden at a level where you believe the instruments would be at in volume. In real life, what you hear may surprise you.