Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis and the Language of Silence

Mark Hollis, the lead singer of ’80s synth-pop act Talk Talk, handed away final week after a short sickness on the age of 64. He had a handful of hits throughout that decade however hadn’t been on the charts since 1986 and hadn’t launched any music in over 20 years. In truth, he had all however disappeared from the general public eye and every week later, there are not any additional particulars about the reason for demise. Yet Hollis’s passing was spoken of with a degree of reverence befitting a religious chief.

If you by no means heard the music of Hollis or Talk Talk and located your self auditioning their albums streaming, you might have puzzled the place precisely this music was. Mark Hollis’s final album (which was additionally his first solo album) dates from 1998. It doesn’t make a sound for the primary 20 seconds and appears comprised of little greater than piano and his sighs in a room, but you're feeling like you're seated on the piano bench subsequent to him. Talk Talk’s swan music, 1991’s Laughing Stock, is equally diffuse, the trembling strings and horns — in addition to guitar and drums — transferring like spilled mercury by means of any try at music construction. Nevertheless, you're feeling immersed in an awesome physique of water. Their 1988 album Spirit of Eden opens with fluttering strings, brass, and the atmosphere of a submarine’s hull, each aspect bordering on the verge of both suggestions or silence. It’s two minutes in earlier than a guitar chord chimes and properly previous the three-minute mark earlier than Mark Hollis’s fraught and fragile voice quivers to life. Along the best way, Hollis and band alight on the orchestral jazz that Miles Davis and Gil Evans achieved, the acidic Chicago blues of Little Walter, the distilled sound of composer Morton Feldman, drawing on all of it and reaching a rarefied peak in its 9 minutes. And simply as “The Rainbow” coalesces right into a music, it almost vanishes, slowly reemerging from silence, many times, unhurried but sleek in its actions.

It’s this type of masterful balancing act — between a sonic maelstrom and secluded monastery — that made Mark Hollis right into a sainted determine, even after he turned his again on music perpetually after 1998. As he advised the Wire on the time about that transformation: “It was simply not eager to repeat what you’ve performed. All the time, you’re getting older and every thing and nothing is static. It feels much more weird to me that there must be no change. That feels actually very bizarre to me.” So in a technique, it wasn’t bizarre that quickly after that, Hollis most well-liked silence over all. Tributes have poured in from the likes of Peter Gabriel, Tears for Fears, Fleet Foxes, Vampire Weekend, and the Arcade Fire. And whereas it’s simple to attract a line from Talk Talk’s largest hit, 1984’s “It’s My Life,” to No Doubt’s smash cowl 20 years later, Talk Talk’s affect on rock and digital music feels each seismic and nearly unimaginable to readily hint. Mark Hollis slowly disappeared from pop music tradition and on the identical time transcended it to turn into a part of its unconscious.

It’s unimaginable to think about what the likes of Radiohead, Spiritualized, Sigur Rós, Slowdive, Explosions within the Sky, and generations of post-rock bands and 21st century producers would sound like with out Hollis’s meticulous and transcendent instance. That sense of adventurousness, the pursuit of sound as an finish in itself quite than a hunt for the following hit single or new sound, that affected person sense of dynamics, capable of lullaby or combust at any second, these weren't widespread traits for a band to have by the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

If you first encountered Talk Talk on the radio within the early 1980s, none of those traits had been evident to your ears. The band was a part of the New Romantic motion of British synth-pop, not readily distinguished from friends like Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Orchestral Maneuvers within the Dark. One journal snorted, “Typical Typical,” including, “the mediocrity is the message.” From the vantage level of at this time and even the beginning of the 1990s, hooky early singles like “Talk Talk” and “Such a Shame” sound well-crafted if weirdly formulaic. For those that hear in Mark Hollis a state of zen, seeing him cavort onstage bare-chested in a denim jacket in 1984 is hilarious. Similarly, when you had been a fan of their skinny-tie singles (or, say, a music government at a report label), the music that adopted is downright mystifying.

“Through these albums … each has felt like a really pure development from the place the one earlier than was,” Hollis stated in the identical interview. “But … to the primary one, there’s no relationship there in any respect.” By 1988’s Spirit of Eden, the band sounded wholly in contrast to itself. They definitely didn’t sound like their synth-pop friends, a lot much less the enduring albums of that age. The largest albums from then are dense, intense, sprawling affairs. Whether you cite the likes of It Takes a Nation to Hold Us Back, Daydream Nation, Loveless, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, …And Justice for All, or Achtung Baby, Spirit of Eden sounds prefer it’s from one other planet. And when Talk Talk launched Laughing Stock on September 16, 1991, they had been in a parallel universe. The very subsequent day, Guns N’ Roses launched Use Your Illusion I & II. GN’R was equally formidable and went past the confines of guitar, bass, and drums in deploying piano, horns, choirs, organ, and extra. Talk Talk utilized upwards of 18 musicians; GN’R credits 19. Some of Illusion’s songs additionally sprawl previous the nine-minute mark, however they lumber like a steam engine down the tracks, sodden and heavy. Even the longest music on Laughing Stock appears to drift towards heaven, weightless even with all of the sounds contained inside it.

The change that Hollis and Talk Talk underwent over the course of the 1980s is difficult to correctly convey, the gulf between the place they began out and the place they lastly dissolved nearly unfathomable. So let’s return to that picture of Hollis shirtless in a jean jacket onstage in 1984 singing “Dum Dum Girl”: what if I advised you that by the yr 2022, Greta Van Fleet’s Josh Kiszka would launch probably the most profound and visionary music of the following 30 years? That’s the metamorphosis of Mark Hollis.

But even 1986’s The Colour of Spring displays that theme of change. Their synth-pop aspect sloughed off like a chrysalis, with a youngsters’s choir, piano, digital wind devices, and a profound use of area emergent. In the work by James Marsh that adorn these albums, vivid pictures of butterflies and birds brighten in any other case naked timber. “Come light spring … Gone is the pallor from a promise that’s nature’s reward,” Hollis sings of that new season of life, and over the following three albums, his phrases and music would extra readily mirror an inward flip.

Spring is symbolic in additional methods than one. Take the chic nine-minute masterwork “New Grass,” with its stately strings and ebullient guitar line that gurgles up like a spring: “Lifted up / Reflected in returning love you sing / Heaven waits, Heaven waits / Someday Christendom could come.” It’s at a chic second like this that the complete notion of Christian rock feels moot. The Holy Spirit strikes inside the music, although he swore to the Wire that, “I’m not a born once more Christian, no, however I'd hope there’s a humanitarian imaginative and prescient in there.”

Hollis’s music struck one other stability, between the human and the religious. “I’m not saying all lyrics need to be about faith however, in a manner, there have to be that type of factor in it,” he advised Melody Maker. “Silence is a very powerful factor you may have … [and] spirit is every thing.” Mystical Christianity and imagery worthy of William Blake, redemption, atonement, a quest for purity; these qualities are imparted throughout these final three albums from Hollis and Talk Talk.

Spirit of Eden, Laughing Stock, and his lone solo album stand as Hollis’s final statements, a triptych unmatched in fashionable music. Try as one may to fit them in with inventive achievements alongside the traces of Nick Drake’s Pink Moon or Joy Division’s Closer, the tragedies that hang-out these albums is a distinct type of muting. Hollis appears to have reached a distinct conclusion, one which brings to thoughts the canvasses of Rothko Chapel, the late string quartets of Feldman. He achieved one thing that transcends class and as an alternative hints on the ineffable. Even within the a long time of silence that adopted and a life that ended within the distress of a February winter, one hopes that Mark Hollis caught a glimpse of the spring to return earlier than exiting from this world.