MARK HOLLIS - The Greta Garbo of Pop

21. February 2018

Mark Hollis Talk Talk

MARK HOLLIS - The Greta Garbo of Pop

The history of the band Talk Talk, which is above all the history of Mark Hollis, reflects one of the most unusual developments in rock music. Started in the early eighties as a synth-pop act in the spirit of the New Romantics, the first album "The Party's Over" was still a child of its time. The following "It's My Life" was a huge success in Germany; the single "Such A Shame" climbed to second place in the charts. The songs were catchy, but at the same time strange, different. There was the disturbing elephant trumpet at the beginning of "Such A Shame" or the unorthodox - sometimes mumbling, sometimes hysterical - singing of Mark Hollis. What kind of band was that?

Space for the avant-garde

The audience received part of the answer with the follow-up album "The Colour Of Spring". Here the songs were still recognizable as pop songs, but the arrangements suddenly tipped into the avant-garde more often. In the chorus of the opener "Happiness Is Easy", for example, an atonal children's choir is used. But the true Enigma came in the form of the 88 album "Spirit Of Eden": The six pieces recorded by seventeen instrumentalists and a choir - the first three of which actually form a suite - were no longer identifiable as pop music. Abstract sound paintings, inspired by the avant-garde music of Claude Debussy or Erik Satie, dominated the scene, cultivating the field for subsequent groups such as Radiohead. The critics cheered, the mainstream listeners turned away. The record company showed little understanding for the new orientation of its former gold donkey, which from today's point of view, however, was the temporary climax of a development. Talk Talk changed the label and refined their sound on the three years later released successor "Laughing Stock" even more. "Then everything I wanted to do with the band was achieved," says Hollis in 1998. Concerts hadn't played Talk Talk since 1986 because they thought it impossible to put the complex sound constructs of their last two albums on stage. "The attempt alone would have been sick," Hollis said years later.

With "Spirit Of Eden" and "Laughing Stock" Mark Hollis was suddenly regarded as an exceptional artist, one who didn't care about the conventions of the pop business. He had crossed borders and created an art that was difficult to access but magical precisely because of it: songs that sound like chamber music despite the collaboration of numerous musicians.

Seven years after his last record with Talk Talk Hollis' self-titled solo album was released. Rarely has the introduction to a pop album been more fitting: for about twenty seconds you first hear - nothing at all. Only then do the first notes of the opener "The Colour Of Spring" emerge. Hollis had used the break of several years to learn, according to his own statements, how to write music and to plunge even deeper into his art of composition. First he toyed with the idea of releasing the record as talk-talk work (although despite fourteen other musicians no other member was involved), also the title, "Mountains Of The Moon", was already certain. Only during the mastering Hollis decided not to use the band name.

In fact, the eight acoustically-recorded tracks (not even amplifiers were used) radiate an even greater fragility than the music of the late phase of Talk Talk. The album was even more difficult to access, even more fragmentary and reserved than "Laughing Stock". In addition, the sung - or better: mumbled - words could hardly be identified anymore. "Space has always been important to me. It's better to play only one note good than two bad," says Hollis in 1998, "the most important thing in terms of the development of my music was to get away from electronics and return to a naturalness

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