Formed in 1981, London’s Talk Talk enjoyed an unusual career trajectory. They started their record career as a passable synth-pop band, often compared to Duran Duran. Early hits like 1984’s ‘Such A Shame’ and ‘It’s My Life’ allowed them access to better recording budgets. Their music became more experimental and more organic.
Talk Talk ended their career as respected pioneers of post-rock. Later records – 1988’s Spirit of Eden and 1991’s Laughing Stock – are remembered as some of the most adventurous and accomplished albums of their era. The group incorporated elements of jazz, classical, and ambient music into their sound.
The group’s leader was vocalist Mark Hollis, supported by rhythm section Lee Harris and Paul Webb. Webb left the group after Spirit of Eden while keyboardist Simon Brenner was an early casualty, only appearing on their debut album. Tim Friese-Greene never became an official member, but was a crucial part of the band, providing keyboards and production after their first record.
Talk Talk made five studio albums during their career. I was tempted to include Mark Hollis’ 1998 solo album to this countdown – it would have placed at #4. The highlights from the outtakes collection Asides Besides are also essential – ‘It’s Getting Late in the Evening’, ‘Pictures of Bernadette’, and ‘John Cope’ are ridiculously strong b-sides. My top choice may be a little controversial, but all three of the top ranked albums rank among my all-time favourites.
Talk Talk Albums Ranked from Worst to Best
#5 – The Party’s Over
Talk Talk’s first album is their only record as a four-piece, featuring keyboard player Simon Brenner. Its languid and romantic sound recalls Duran Duran or late-period Roxy Music. There’s competent synth-pop on ‘Talk Talk’ and ‘Today’, and Paul Webb’s fretless bass doodling is interesting, but this band would improve markedly.
#4 – It’s My Life
There are signs of growth on Talk Talk’s second album. In particular, the experimental textures of ‘Tomorrow Started’ anticipate their later work. The title track, later covered by No Doubt, is the most memorable song from their early period. But overall, It’s My Life isn’t much more enjoyable than the debut.
#3 – Laughing Stock
Talk Talk’s final album is their most esoteric – songs like ‘Myrrhman’ are closer to jazz and ambient than they are to rock music. Hollis’ lyrics gently explore religious themes, as titles like ‘Ascension Day’ and ‘After the Flood’. ‘Ascension Day’ is punctuated by angry guitars, while ‘New Grass’ and ‘After the Flood’ are resigned and gorgeous. There’s a huge gulf between #4 and #3 on this list.
#2 – Spirit of Eden
Talk Talk’s fourth album was a reinvention, often credited with foreshadowing the genre of post-rock. Following the success of The Colour of Spring, Talk Talk were given complete creative control, and recording sessions took a year, in a blacked out studio with strobe lighting. Conventional pop songs are displaced by moody textural experimentation, backing Mark Hollis’ emotive and enigmatic voice. The first side is a suite of three tracks – ‘The Rainbow’, ‘Eden’, and ‘Desire’. The second side contains ‘I Believe In You’ – it was an unsuccessful single from an album that needs to be heard in its entirety, but it’s gorgeous with its insistent organ riff backing Hollis’ yearning voice.
#1 – The Colour of Spring
Success allowed Talk Talk to largely ditch synthetic textures for organic textures for third album The Colour of Spring. The group’s sound is augmented by ace musicians like Steve Winwood, David Rhodes, and Danny Thompson. Paul Webb’s bass-lines are monstrous on tracks like ‘Give It Up’ and ‘Time It’s Time’, although the record’s most memorable bass part is played by Hollis on piano, lead single ‘Life’s What You Make It’. The moodier material like ‘April 5th’ and ‘Chameleon Material’ anticipates Talk Talk’s foray into post-rock. The Colour of Spring is a stunning masterpiece of sophisticated pop music, intellectual and often danceable.