TALK TALK-THE COLOUR OF SPRING.
TALK TALK-THE COLOUR OF SPRING.
The album this article is about came out in 1986. This period was hardly a vintage time for music in the UK. Much of the music was throwaway pop music, music which was instantly forgettable. Granted there were some great bands from the UK, some that spring to mind, are The Smiths, New Order, The Cult and Simple Minds. Most of the bands that fell under the New Romantic label, were, to me, bugglegum pop, music with a short shelf life, that would have no impact on musical history. One band that bucked this trend were Talk Talk. After achieving worldwide success between 1984 and 1986, they settled down and made several classic albums. Today I’m going to write about their album The Colour of Spring, an album that saw their style completely change, and won them a completely new set of fans. After telling you a little about their history, I’ll tell you why this album, is such a great album.
Talk Talk were formed in 1981, originally starting out as a quartet. The band consisted of vocalist Mark Hollis, keyboard player Simon Brenner, drummer Lee Harris and Paul Webb on bass. Originally, they were compared to groups like Duran Duran, and were said to be part of the dreadful New Romantic musical movement. However, Talk Talk were much more sophisticated than that, as they would demonstrate in later years.
Their first record was an EP, entitled Talk Talk. After the EP’s success, this became the basis for their debut album The Party’s Over, released in July 1982. The album reached number twenty-one in the UK album charts, and the single from the album Today, gave the band a top twenty hit. This was a promising start for a band that was formed just over a year before.
In October 1982, Talk Talk supported Genesis at their reunion concert at Milton Keynes Bowl. This introduced the band to a much bigger audience. In 1983, Simon Brenner left the band, after the release of a single My Foolish Friend. The single was a completely new track, and wasn’t on their debut album. Brenner was replaced by Tim Friese-Greene, who became the unofficial fourth member of Talk Talk. He would play a huge part in the band’s future, becoming Hollis’ songwriting partner, keyboard player and producer. Although he played such a major role in the band, he didn’t tour with the band, or appear in publicity material.
Talk Talk’s next album was It’s My Life, released in February 1984. Although the album only reached number thirty-five in the UK album charts, it was a top five hit in many other European countries. In the US, the album reached number forty-two in the Billboard 200. One of the reasons for the albums success, were the singles released from the album, including Such A Shame.
Their next album was the one that really made the group a worldwide success. The Colour of Spring was released in March 1986, and saw the group abandon their New Wave style of music, which was heavily reliant on synthesizers. This new style of music won the band many more fans, and the album was certified gold in the UK by the BPI for sales of over one hundred thousand. Singles from the album also proved successful, with Life’s What You Make It reaching the top twenty, and Living In Another World reaching the top forty.
After the success of The Colour of Spring, Talk Talk headed to the studios to record their next album with a much bigger budget. This was fortunate as the album took a long time to record, and featured many guest musicians. When Spirit Of Eden was released in September 1988, it was well worth the wait and bigger budget. The album was a masterpiece. A blend of jazz, rock, classical and ambient music. Much of the music had been improvised, and the whole album recorded and edited on digital equipment. For some reason, the album didn’t sell so well. Maybe it wasn’t commercial enough, or it was too sophisticated for many casual album buyers. Spirit of Eden was certified silver, having sold over sixty-thousand copies in the UK. Talk Talk decided not to tour the album. In retrospect, this was a sensible decision, as it would be nearly impossible to recreate the album live.
While the band were recording Spirit Of Eden, their manager Keith Aspen, was trying to get the band released from their contract with EMI. Both the band and Aspen felt Talk Talk were on the wrong label. After a lengthy legal dispute, lasting several months, the band managed to secure their release from their contract with EMI. As part of the deal, EMI released a retrospective of Talk Talk’s career with EMI. This was entitled Natural History. It reached number three in the UK album charts and was certified gold, for selling over one hundred-thousand copies. In total, the album would sell over one million copies worldwide. Natural History would also provide Talk Talk with their biggest UK hit single. It’s My Life reached number thirteen in the UK singles chart and Life’s What You Make It also reached the top twenty in the singles chart.
In 1990 Talk Talk signed a two album record deal with Polydor Records. What would be their final album, Laughing Stock, was released in September 1991, on Verve Records, a subsidiary of Polydor Records. Hollis and Friese-Greene were, by now, the only two remaining members of the band, Webb having left the band by now. Before the album’s release, it had attained an almost mythical status, when news of the recording sessions were leaked out. When the album was released, the more experimental sound started on Spirit of Eden, was taken to the next stage on Laughing Stock. It was a masterful album, but sadly, one that failed to have the same commercial success as its predecessors. Laughing Stock reached only number twenty-six in the UK album charts.
Laughing Stock was the last album Talk Talk produced. They split up in 1991, with each member of the group going of to do their separate things. Mark Hollis released one solo album entitled Mark Hollis in 1998. The sound was very much like that on Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock. After the release of his solo album, he retired from the music industry.
Having told you about the band’s history, I’ll now tell you what makes The Colour of Spring such a good album. Happiness Is Easy opens the album. The track begins with drums playing, an interjection of percussion and a keyboard plays. Then Mark Hollis sings, his voice high, clear and full of drama. Behind him, a Spanish sounding acoustic guitar plays, strings subtly sweep. Later a chorus of children sing, a trumpet plays. It’s a busy soundscape, yet never sounds cluttered. Throughout the track the drums play, always noticeable, drawing your attention to them. The sound is one that is sophisticated, full of nuances and subtleties, that won’t be apparent until you’ve heard the album many times.
One of the tracks many people will recognize from The Colour of Spring is I Don’t Believe In You. Having said that Hollis’ vocal was dramatic on the previous track, to say the same thing here, would be an understatement. A drums cracks, strings play and the track opens up. The sound is big, almost theatrical, as if preparing the stage for the leading man in what is like a mini-drama. When Hollis sings, his voice is heartfelt, passionate, verging on disbelief at singing the lyrics. His vocal is outstanding, and is fully a match for the rest of the band, who, together, set the scene perfectly for Hollis. I Don’t Believe In You is, without doubt, one of the real highlights of The Colour of Spring.
The other track from The Colour of Spring that most people will know is Life’s What You Make It. This track is very different to the two previous tracks. It’s a much louder track, one with a much fuller sound. It fills the mix, and although not the quickest track on the album, it sounds deceptively quick. From the first few bars of the track, the sound is full on, almost in your face. It lacks the subtleties of other tracks on this album. Guitars, drums and keyboards are all at the forefront of the mix, and Hollis’ vocal is loud and clear, and in keeping with the other instruments on the track. Obviously, this has been a hugely successful song, one that many people love, but although I recognize its quality, I prefer the more subtle tracks on the album.
April 5th thankfully, sees Talk Talk return to a much more subtle sound, after the full-on assault on the senses of Life’s What You Make It. This track has a much gentler sound, it’s a track that at the start meanders, but meanders beautifully. Percussion plays, you feel it’s surrounding you. Hollis vocal appears through a mixture of percussion and piano. His voice makes at first, a fleeting appearance, then returns. When he returns, he’s backed by a Hammond organ and guitar. The sound is emerging, emerging almost hesitantly, evolving through what is a mystical soundscape. The lyrics, as usual, are a thing of beauty, made all the better by Hollis’ thoughtful delivery of them. Sometimes, he uses his voice sparingly, treating it like another instrument. This is hugely effective, and adds another dimension to what is, a wonderful track.
The next track Living In Another World, has a much brighter, uptempo sound and style. Straight away, the sound is full, bright, yet hints at drama to come. Hollis’ vocal soars high above the rest of the arrangement. The arrangement features a multitude of instruments. Guitars, piano, percussion, drums, bass, saxophone, harmonica and organ all contribute to this track. One of the highlights of the track’s is Mark Feltham’s harmonica solo. Steve Winwood guests on this track, playing organ. Here, each of these instruments play their part in making this a dramatic sounding track, one that’s the complete opposite of the previous track April 5th. It was a track full of subtleties, this is a track that forgets about subtlety, and instead, decides to showcase a much more grandiose sound. Talk Talk are totally unapologetic about such grandstanding. To them, it’s an opportunity to show another side of their music. Here it’s like they’ve unleashed a monster, a very lovable monster, one that has produced a brilliant track.
Give It Up starts with a Hammond organ atmospherically playing. Drums join the track, providing a steady backdrop, like the heartbeat of the track. When Hollis sings, is voice is quieter than on the last track. By comparison, his vocal is almost subdued, at times. However, later in the track, it veers between this subdued sound, to a much stronger sound, one that perfectly articulates the song’s lyrics. This is another song which is loaded with drama. All of a sudden, sounds emerge, some dark and moody. On this track, a mellotron makes an appearance, played by Mark Hollis. It’s joined by a dobro, as well as the usual drums, bass, organ, piano and percussion. The sound is a mixture of more unusual and traditional instruments, all of which come together gloriously, to produce another noteworthy track of the highest quality.
When you hear the start of Chamelon Day, it sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie. The sound is otherworldly, not quite eery, but getting there. When Hollis sings, he does so quietly at the start, backed by a piano. Both Hollis and the piano leave plenty of space in the track. Later, and very suddenly, Hollis almost shouts the lyrics. This is only momentarily, but happens again. Chamelon Day has a very minimalist sound, it ambles very slowly, yet is full of character and some dramatic moments. It’s a lovely track, one full of subtleties and nuances, waiting for you to discover.
The final track on The Colour of Money is Time It’s Time. It starts brightly, piano and drums playing, then Hollis sing softly. As the track progresses, it gets louder and fuller. Drums come to the forefront of the mix, Holiis’ voice gets louder and the Ambrosia Choir sing. Their contribution is stunning, their voices merging beautifully with the rest of the arrangement, producing a powerful soundscape. It’s a complex piece of music, one that has been arranged perfectly, which must gave been difficult given the numerous instruments used and the addition of a choir. Quite simply, this is stunning track, and a fitting way to end such a great album.
The Colour of Spring was the first of three great albums that Talk Talk made. This was followed by Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock. Talk Talk were about to embark on a journey that would see them produce a trio of classic albums. This was quite a change from their early work, which saw them erroneously categorized as just another New Romantic band. After this album, people saw a very different side to Talk Talk, they were viewed as serious musicians, not purveyors of bubblegum pop. They, unlike any of the bands that they were mistakenly compared with, Talk Talk produced three memorable albums, which are perceived as classic albums. None of those other bands even came close to this. Twenty years after Talk Talk split up, people still love their music, journalists still write about it and their albums still sell. In my opinion, The Colour of Love was a great album, one that deserves a place in every self respecting record collection. If you don’t own this album, I suggest that you buy a copy of The Colour of Money, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock. Having done that, you will be the proud owner of three wonderful albums, albums that regardless of how often you listen to them, you’ll always hear something you’ve never heard before. These albums are full of subtleties and nuances that it’s impossible to hear straight away, they slowly emerge, each time, a new one revealing itself to you. Should you buy these wonderful albums, you’ll never regret doing so, and enter into a lifelong love affair with this wonderful music. Standout Tracks: Happiness Is Easy, April 5th, Living In Another World and Time It’s Time.
TALK TALK-THE COLOUR OF SPRING.