Thursday, 9 May 2013
105 Spirit Of Eden - Talk Talk
Purchased : 20 September 1988
Tracks : The Rainbow / Eden / Desire / Inheritance / I Believe In You / Wealth
This was bought in Liverpool ( either HMV or Virgin, I can't remember ) when I uncovered it on a routine lunchtime browse. I was startled, because I'd heard nothing about a new release from my favourite band , but of course bought it straightaway at full price.
I must admit I've been dreading having to write about this one for some time as I know many people love it to death and make extravagant claims for it. I, on the other hand have never "got " it and still mourn the disappearance of the group that produced "It's My Life" and "Today" .
Regular readers ( if I have any ) may have noticed that I've been trying in recent posts to give a more organic view of an LP and less of a mechanical breakdown of the individual songs. That might be particularly appropriate here as the six tracks were never conceived as individual songs. Mark Hollis and Tim Friese-Greene used the artistic freedom earned by the success of 1986's "The Colour Of Spring" to construct an album from long sessions of improvisation in an unlit studio edited down to a vinyl album's length. That's the story anyway. I'm not sure I buy it completely ; "I Believe In You" ( chosen by a shell shocked EMI as a hopelessly un-commercial single ) and "Desire" do have a conventional verse chorus structure suggesting a pre-studio conception. The stalwart rhythm section of Paul Webb and Lee Harris are still on board here but have no writing credits and seem to have been demoted to mere session players. Certainly neither of them appear in the promo for the single.
The other point to make about the rhythm section is that at no point in the LP do they ever play anything remotely danceable. Nor are there any memorable keyboard lines - a key strength of their previous work. This is difficult music , most of it played at a funereal tempo, which doesn't yield its secrets easily. It wasn't a total surprise ; Mark Hollis had been proclaiming his love of modern jazz from their earliest interviews and in 1982 picked Lou Reed's notorious Metal Machine Music as one of his favourite records for a Record Mirror feature. "Chameleon Day" on the previous LP and the original version of "Call In The Night Boy" on the B side of "My Foolish Friend" were both good pointers to the direction pursued here.
So, taking the plunge once again, the first three tracks segue into each other and have been treated as one on some CD issues. "The Rainbow" starts out with over two minute's worth of long single brass notes and ambient noises before the song , a victim's lament over a lenient sentence, almost reluctantly rumbles into life with a steely guitar line. It takes another minute for Hollis to come in singing so delicately you can only catch about half the words. Webb and Harris are present only intermittently with the pauses filled by mournful jazz horns until Mark Feltham's harmonica explodes with rage before Hollis's last lines.
"Eden" starts in similar vein before Harris's drums kick it into life after a minute, sounding pretty close to Mo Tucker on Heroin . The song seems to be another gloomy meditation on Christianity with Hollis more up front especially on the desperate declaration "Everybody needs somebody to live by" thrice repeated amid glorious organ swells. In the last couple of minutes Feltham and Henry Lowther's trumpet have a dialogue then Harris's hi-hats battle Robbie McIntosh's guitar before calm is restored.
"Desire" is the nearest thing to a ( very left-field ) rock song with quiet mournful verses suddenly giving way to an angry snarling chorus of squally electric guitar dissonance worthy of Radiohead. Both lyric and vocal seethe with self-loathing so it's perhaps best not to inquire what desire they're concerned with. After the second chorus there's an extended drum and percussion break to further express this inner turmoil.
The second side starts with the meandering "Inheritance" which seems to address old age and alternates between loud and quiet passages. The same goes for Hollis's vocal, a catch in the throat whisper at some points and full-on wail at others. There's some nice piano and oboe work ( c/o Michael Jeans ) but it doesn't quite hit the spot.
"I Believe In You" is the most accessible song here, a meditation on the loss of his brother to a heroin overdose although characteristically the key line "I've seen heroin for myself" is almost inaudible. Set to a slow rumble it achieves great beauty on the "Spirit - how long ? " redemptive chorus when the wordless lament of Chelmsford Cathedral choir and Friese-Greene's organ are blended together. The merest hint of a conventional melody at this point led to its selection as a single, edited down with a minimalist video. I had assumed that constituted Hollis's last public appearance but youtube has an appearance on the Dutch TV show Countdown where the band appear as a trio ( even though the Mexican bass on the record was played by Simon Edwards not Webb ) and lipsync , Hollis never lifting his eyes from a spot on the floor and the others kept in shadow.
"Wealth" emerges from 20 seconds of silence broken by Hollis and is glacially slow with no percussion and minimal bass. It's more of a hymn than a pop song with long organ chords accompanying Hollis's opaque exhortations of surrender- "Take my freedom ! " before the song slowly fades out.
Yes it's impressively constructed and I might yet grow to love it as much as others do but I'm still not completely converted.