It was a usual morning for me. As I was making myself breakfast and drinking my first cup of coffee of the day at the kitchen counter, I was listening to the morning show on WXPN out of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
They were going through the day’s music notes when suddenly I heard, “And Mark Hollis, the frontman for Talk Talk…”
I literally felt my heart sink at that point because I feared what was coming next. I mean, for a millisecond, I hoped beyond hope that the next words I would hear would be, “…has emerged for the first time in over 20 years with new music.”
They weren’t. Mark Hollis of Talk Talk was dead at 64.
Many only know Talk Talk from their early to mid-80s synth pop era, when they produced songs like “Talk Talk” and “It’s My Life,” which was later popularized by No Doubt’s cover in 2003.
But Talk Talk’s biggest commercial success was actually 1986’s The Colour of Spring, which spawned the hit “Life’s What You Make It” and marked a transition into the art-pop genre.
While the album was also a critical success, many were stunned by the departure from Talk Talk’s early sound.
Well, Hollis really confused them with Talk Talk’s next album, 1988’s Spirit of Eden, a collection of songs composed mostly through improvisation and editing that drew upon a wide array of influences, including jazz, classical, ambient and pop/rock. It was a commercial product that unashamedly eschewed commercialism. Upon its release, Spirit of Eden was met with poor sales and mostly negative reviews from critics.
It was the same for the 1991 follow-up Laughing Stock, which wound up being the final Talk Talk album. Hollis would release a self-titled solo album in 1988 in the same vein as Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock before retreating entirely from music and public life to spend time with his family. However, Hollis apparently created some music for the 2010 movie Peacock starring Cillian Murphy, Susan Sarandon and Ellen Page that went unused until a portion of that material called “ARB Section 1” showed up in the second season of the Starz series Boss with Kelsey Grammer in 2012.
In the 30-plus years since the release of Spirit of Eden, something pretty amazing has happened, though. The album that was so overlooked when it was released in 1988 has been re-evaluated by music critics and fans, and it turns out the album was actually brilliant and hugely influential. Pitchfork recently published a look back at the album and gave it a 10, citing its “masterful, groundbreaking sound that laid the foundation for post-rock.”
Guy Garvey of Elbow dedicated an entire episode of his BBC Radio 6 Music show to talk about Spirit of Eden on the 30th anniversary of its release last year.
Radiohead, Sigur Rós, Doves and my favorite band of the past couple of years, Lo Moon, are other contemporary acts who were influenced by Talk Talk and have showered praise upon Spirit of Eden. St. Vincent (Annie Clark) tweeted in September 2017 that Spirit of Eden saved her life. Following Hollis’ death, Strand Of Oaks’ Timothy Showalter posted the same sentiment in a very personal, emotional message on Instagram.
Right after my first son was born in 2012, my wife and I were nervous about his sleeping so we took turns watching him during the night for a short time. One night while on baby duty, I opened GarageBand on my iPhone and wound up fooling around with the piano part from “Life’s What You Make It.” I worked on it a bit on the phone before bringing it over to the desktop version to tweak some things, but never really got back to it. And because it was the middle of the night, I went with a very quiet, minimalistic take on the song. The original vocals were literally whispers into the iPhone’s built-in microphone. I re-recorded them at some point, but never got them the way I really wanted them.
This is a sad day for me. Mark Hollis was up there with Peter Gabriel, Todd Rundgren, Kate Bush, Howard Jones and Midge Ure among my musical heroes.
Farewell, Mark, and thank you for all the music and your genius.