After Spirit Of Eden failed to spawn a successful single or follow The Colour of Spring into the UK top ten, despite its huge recording expense, Talk Talk ended their relationship with a disillusioned EMI. Paul Webb also quit the band, later collaborating with Portishead’s Beth Gibbons as Rustin’ Man. The remaining duo of Mark Hollis and Lee Harris continued for one last album, released on the jazz label Polydor. Coincidentally, it’s actually the jazz feel of the rhythm tracks – Harris jazzier drumming style and the acoustic bass of the session players – that’s the single biggest departure from the Spirit Of Eden sound. Otherwise Laughing Stock is a gentler, more subtle sequel; apart from the violent guitars of ‘Ascension Day’, it rarely raises above a gentle murmur.
It would be a shame if Hollis and Friese-Green didn’t continue in the ground-breaking vein of Spirit Of Eden, and this album is very nearly as good; it’s just the relatively sedate and uneventful opening and closing tracks that stop this album reaching the same heights. The remaining four tracks, though, are largely sublime, pushing out the boundaries established by Spirit Of Eden. Hollis’s guitar assault in ‘Ascension Day’ is both wilder and more refined than the previous album’s ‘Desire’, while ‘Taphead’ pushes further into avant-garde territory. ‘After The Flood’ and ‘New Grass’ both approach the ten minute mark and are both gorgeous, relying on vivid acoustic textures.
Laughing Stock is a fine, if premature end, to a wonderful career.