Talk Talk‘s career trajectory is one of the most fascinating in rock music – over the course of a decade and five albums, they transformed from a generic synth-pop outfit to trail-blazers for post-rock.
Keyboardist Simon Brenner left Talk Talk after their 1982 debut The Party’s Over. Vocalist Mark Hollis, drummer Lee Harris, and bassist Paul Webb continued as a trio, although Tim Friese-Greene was unofficially the band’s fourth member, collaborating with production and instrumentation.
Talk Talk’s second album, It’s My Life, spawned the well-known title track, but the band still peddled stilted and synthetic pop that hasn’t aged gracefully. Mark Hollis doesn’t suit synth backing – the sad whine in his voice is compounded by synthesizers, and organic textures mesh better with his vocals. Hollis later explained that Talk Talk’s use of synthesizers on their early albums was driven by financial constraints.
Talk Talk’s 1986 album The Colour of Spring features bright, vibrant 1980s production, but it largely eschews the synthetic textures of the 1980s. Lee Harris’ drums are organic and jazzy, and the band’s synths are subtle, largely supplanted by organic textures like piano, percussion, and guitar.
While Talk Talk’s early albums are stiff and claustrophobic, The Colour of Spring is alive and spacious. ‘Living In Another World’ features Mark Feltham’s harmonica and Steve Winwood’s organ, and structurally it’s inspired by Miles Davis’ modal compositions. The Colour of Spring was a hit, selling more than two million copies.
Talk Talk expounded on the textural and improvisational elements of The Colour of Spring for 1988’s Spirit of Eden. Spirit of Eden is often credited as a major step in developing the post-rock genre, while 1991’s Laughing Stock was even more jazz-tinged and experimental. While neither of the post-rock albums were big sellers, they’ve been acclaimed in retrospect.
Why The Colour of Spring is Talk Talk’s Best Album
Talk Talk fans often praise Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock as the band’s masterpieces, and regard The Colour of Spring as a transitional effort with signs of their later post-rock mastery.
The last two Talk Talk albums are brilliant, with moments of genius like ‘New Grass’, ‘Ascension Day’, and ‘I Believe In You’. But The Colour of Spring is an amazing record in its own right, a unique work that balances the sonic experimentation of Talk Talk’s later work with poppy song-craft.
Bands like Bark Psychosis and Godspeed You! Black Emperor have built upon the template Spirit of Eden, but I can’t think of a single record that sounds like The Colour of Spring – the blend of pop hooks, great musicianship, textural experimentation, yearning vocals, and bright 1980s production is unique.
The Colour of Spring was so strong that it spawned three excellent out-takes, released as b-sides: ‘It’s Getting Late in the Evening’ and ‘For What It’s Worth’ are sparse and beautiful, while ‘Pictures of Bernadette‘ is a pop masterpiece with a chaotic guitar solo.
Mark Hollis passed away earlier in 2019; his career wasn’t prolific, but he blessed music fans with four trail-blazing albums. While Spirit of Eden, Laughing Stock, and 1998’s solo effort Mark Hollis are all terrific, The Colour of Spring is a unique blend of pop smarts and textural experimentation.
Life’s What You Make It
It was a hit, but ‘Life’s What You Make It’ is a supremely weird pop song. It’s rhythmic, driven by Mark Hollis’ piano bass-line and Lee Harris’ clattering drum beat. Texture is added by Tim Friese-Greene’s organ and Mellotron, while David Rhodes, known for his work with Peter Gabriel, fills in the spaces with his lead guitar.-
Most of the songs on The Colour of Spring could loosely be described as bops – cerebral songs, but with bass-lines and rhythms you can dance to. But two of the songs shift the tempo right down, and turn the atmosphere up. ‘April 5th’ is sparse; largely Hollis’ vocal accompanied by a tremolo-laden organ, spacious and beautiful.
Give It Up
‘Give It Up’ is a representative track for The Colour of Spring – Friese-Greene’s organ is the dominant instrument, but Paul Webb’s bass-line makes the song work. His fretless bass is prominent in the mix, but his playing is sparse – the intermittent walking line functions as the song’s main hook. While Steve Winwood plays elsewhere on the record, ‘Give It Up’ is the song that sounds closest to Winwood’s own work.
Do The Experts Agree?
Talk Talk were ignored by Rolling Stone during the band’s existence, but were savaged in the 1992 Rolling Stone Album Guide – J. D. Cosidine wrote that “this band simply grew more pretentious with each passing year”. Later in the 1990s, glowing endorsements in Rolling Stone from fellow musicians – Sarah McLachlan and Weezer bassist Matt Sharp – fostered Talk Talk’s legacy as post-rock pioneers.
On the website Rate Your Music, The Colour of Spring is ranked as the third best Talk Talk album, and the 472nd best album of all time (impressively, Talk Talk also have two albums inside the top 100).
On the website Acclaimed Music, The Colour of Spring is ranked as the 3rd best Talk Talk album, and the 948th best album of all time.
Controversially, The Colour of Spring is the only Talk Talk album included in the original edition of 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.