Spirit Of Eden

Talk Talk

Parlophone/Warner, 1988


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Left-field turns are rarely as abrupt as the one Talk Talk made in the late ’80s, but in doing so, their influence became more important than their pop recording career had been.

Two synth-pop albums very much of their time (and a hit in “It’s My Life”) had given the guys freedom to branch out; their third album, 1986’s The Colour Of Spring, was in a similar vein but showed some hints of experimentation. It also yielded a couple of hits (“Life’s What You Make It”), and as a result, the record label gave them pretty much unlimited funds and time to record a fourth album.

Only Talk Talk didn’t want to do pop anymore. Tired of touring, tired of the game, they retreated to the recording studio and got weird. Blackout curtains were put up and only dim lighting was allowed. A cadre of studio musicians was invited in to basically play riffs and solos over the most basic of beats. When this was done, there were close to 1000 hours of recordings… which Talk Talk then painstakingly chopped up and assembled into sonic sculptures. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The new digital technology of the day allowed for this to happen; it was an update on the musique concrete cut-and-paste approach that had been used famously on Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, among others. Rarely in pop history had an album been so labored over, especially when nobody had asked for it. The band honestly thought Spirit Of Eden would sell, but the label was confused and upset that they didn’t get another pop smash and didn’t know how to market the album. Nor were audiences prepared for an album like this, especially considering what was popular (even in underground circles) in 1987.

The six songs are a woozy dream, alternating from hushed piano to louder sections, with Mark Hollis’ vocals winding in and out. Using the word “songs” is kind of a misnomer, as none of them have a real start or end; it almost plays like one long album with various sections (kind of like Tubular Bells or Thick As A Brick, as written by Sylvia Plath). Some of the passages are energetic—the cowbell rock in the middle of “Desire,” the overdriven blues harmonica in “The Rainbow”—but most of this is a minimalist, ambient tone poem.

Not only does Spirit sound nothing like Talk Talk’s previous output, it sounds like nothing else from its time, and indeed the band would record one more similar album and then call it a day in 1991. But musicians who heard this took note, and gloomy post-rock/ambient influences would start creeping into pop music, reaching an apex with Radiohead, Animal Collective, Bon Iver and others. They did it better and catchier, perhaps, but Talk Talk did it first, and that’s worth something. Hollis refused to shape any of the songs into singles, which befits his view of the album, but also works to its detriment; it seems he could have lost some of the noodling that surrounds each song and found a core that would have spoken to his vision but been more accessible.

Stark, beautiful, challenging, immersive and difficult, Spirit of Eden is an adventure that’s not easy but can be rewarding if you are willing to hunker down into your psyche and spend time with it.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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