The undeniable influence of Talk Talk maestro Mark Hollis
“It gets tiring,” Mark Hollis once said. “I can’t hear it myself. I get depressed about the whole thing, kids ought to know about music, not image.” Mark Hollis, the mastermind behind the 1980s enigma of a band Talk Talk, was never shy when voicing his opinion on leaving the New-Romantics movement of the early ’80s, a time heavily characterised by synthesisers and frilly shirts. Talk Talk’s 1988 album, Spirit of Eden, would instead regain its artistic integrity through pioneering the post-rock sound. Hollis once famously said of synthesisers, “They are an economic measure. Beyond that, I absolutely hate them. To me the only good thing about them was they gave you large areas of sound to work with. Apart from that they’re really horrible.”
Mark Hollis’ fearless experimental outfit, Talk Talk, would see the end coming with the release of Spirit of Eden, described at the time as “heroically uncommercial”. The band were subsequently dropped from EMI, and according to UCR publication, the LP was deleted. The band would try once more with their final album, The Laughing Stock, amid significant changes as their bassist Paul Webb left before the recording and the band signed to Verve Records. Like its predecessor, Laughing Stock was sparse and minimal in sounds and was the result of Mark Hollis’ hours of perfectionist-leaning tendencies during recording hours upon hours of experimental music.
Their 1984 effort It’s My Life incorporated a commercial synth sound with a slight quirkiness to it. However, it was Mark Hollis’ songwriting that separated the band from their contemporaries also associated with the New Romantic movement, such as Duran Duran. The album spawned two major hits, ‘Such a Shame’, which reached the top of the charts throughout Europe, and ‘It’s My Life’, a great pop tune that would be made hugely popular later on by No Doubt.
Hollis, who retired from the music industry in 1991, passed away at the young age of 64 in 2019. Despite his early retirement, Talk Talk’s music remains a significant influence on artists to this day. Some of the more recent bands who have expressed their affinity to Talk Talk, include St. Vincent, who once tweeted, “Spirit of Eden saved my life” in 2017. In an interview with Milwaukee Radio Station WYMS, Annie Clark from St. Vincent, said, “To me it’s divorced from any people or places. To me, it’s headphone music in random cities all over the world.”
Blur’s David Rowntree, also taking to social media upon hearing about Hollis’ death, stated: “His music was rich and deep, and a huge influence on my development as a musician.” The extent of Talk Talk’s influence does not end with Mark Hollis’ songwriting and musicality. If it wasn’t for Spirit of Eden’s producer, Phil Brown, the Hollis’ artistic vision could not have been fully formed. Radiohead’s producer, Nigel Godrich once referred to Brown as, “a father figure to my generation of engineers”.
It is obvious that Mark Hollis and the rest of Talk Talk has a tremendous influence on generations of musicians and artists. When one hears Hollis’ name, one central notion comes to mind concerning Hollis’ refusal to budge to anyone else’s whim; in the words of Peter Gabriel, “Real originality is a rare commodity in music.”
Watch Talk Talk’s music video for ‘It’s My Life’, below.