You remember Talk Talk. You just don’t know it. They were the seminal English new wave band that penned the hits “It’s My Life” and “Life’s What You Make It”, later on becoming notable for their abandonment of synthpop ideals and subsequent friction with their record label EMI. To this day, their final two albums “Spirit of Eden” and “Laughing Stock” are regarded by many critics as masterpieces, and the music that came out of the sessions has come to be known as the first steps into a new genre called post-rock that would explode in the ’90s.
But for Talk Talk, that was the end. Soon after their influential final album, the band broke up and faded off into the obscurity that draws its veil over all but the most popular acts. And Mark Hollis, the creative pioneer that had come to be respected by so many musicians, only released one more album, 1998’s self-titled “Mark Hollis”, before retiring from the music industry. That was almost 20 years ago, and almost nothing’s been heard from him since.
All this time their legend has grown. Current bands including Death Cab for Cutie and M83 have praised Talk Talk, not to mention that their songs have been covered by bands such as Weezer and No Doubt, which scored an international hit with their cover of “It’s My Life”. But it’s not just the music. Part of Talk Talk’s allure is that they challenged commercialism and the status quo in a time when the music industry was becoming toxic in their control of artists. Coupled with Hollis’ absence from the music industry, these things have come close to turning Hollis into a sort of musical folk hero, fighting against conformity and exploring the frontiers of music. It’s hard, looking back, to think of anyone so purely idealistic about his music.
But where did this post-rock pioneer disappear to? After his solo album, Mark Hollis fell off the map. He made a few guest appearances on albums in the late ’90s and Early 2000s, then did nothing for close to a decade. In 2012, some of his music appeared on the TV show “Boss” curated by composer Brian Reitzell, formerly of Redd Kross. Were these ideas for an upcoming album? Doesn’t seem so. Not that anyone would have any idea, though, since Hollis stays mysteriously out of the limelight.
So was Hollis the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the music industry disappearing into his cloak when Darth Vader approached? Had he done everything he needed to do, leaving the door open for other bands to explore the new frontier of music he had opened? It seems that is the case. His ideas of minimalism and experimentation have become the stuff of legend, and has left its mark forever on the arena of rock music. One could make an argument that without Talk Talk, we wouldn’t have Tortoise, Explosions in the Sky, or even Radiohead. Some say they changed the whole idea of how music could be listened to and experienced.
All one must do to experience the spirit of Talk Talk is to go in a dark room, light some candles, and play the entirety of “Spirit of Eden” with their whole being intent on its tapestry of sounds. It is a tremendous record that speaks to something deep inside of each person, and if you take the time, you can see for yourself why Mark Hollis stepped away from music after he sent his message to the world.