It was sad news to hear of the passing of Mark Hollis this Monday. What surprised me was the outpouring of dedications that came on my social media feeds for the work of an artist/band that fell out of favor, even in their prime.
But I shouldn’t have been surprised, My feeds are full of artists and especially musicians. Their dedications didn’t highlight tracks from Talk Talk’s most financially successful work but from what Wikipedia dismissively terms as their “experimental period”.
It was a period I unfortunately knew little about until a few years ago. Their now classic albums “Spirit Of Eden” and “Laughing Stock” came out when i was 1 and 3 years old respectively. For many years, the only thing I really knew about Talk Talk was their song “It’s My Life”, and I didn’t even know they’d recorded it. It was denigrated to a highlight on a best of the 80’s compilation CD.
That all changed when talking to fellow music producers about what albums they think are the best produced and hearing “Spirit Of Eden” come up several times. To have never heard about an album that was in such high esteem from my peers certainly intrigued me. I gave it a listen and I was blown away.
I often worry about missing out on great music. Just how many acts of sheer brilliance have been buried under other musical mediocrity? “Spirit Of Eden” proved that my fears are justified. That you can easily miss some of the greatest work ever made, even if you are trying to pay attention.
“Spirit Of Eden” is a masterpiece in production and mixing. Released at the end of the 80’s it stripped back on the synthesis of Talk Talks early work and relied more on traditional instrumentation, which is recorded to highlight its best qualities and treated to fit the album.
The album creates a strong mood by focusing on a wide dynamic range and creating lots of space in the composition. It goes against the grain of pop music in the 80’s; traits that have continued to consume the industry to this day.
Plenty of people have written better more detailed essays on the creation of “Spirit Of Eden,” so I won’t go further into it except to say that Talk Talk were dedicated to creating their art, even if it cost them some commercial success. Veering off from the pop music du jour resulted in them loosing favor with the industry, but this didn’t stop them continuing to follow their artistic drives with aplomb on their final album “Laughing Stock”.
Now, the music that didn’t fit into the time has become timeless. The care and attention to the work shows through to this day and I think it’s the key reason many musicians and producers have affection for these two albums and Mark Hollis.
As an amateur artist, thoughts on what you would do if you reached a level of success are always there. Would you cater your work to your audience or make the work purely from your own point of view? Successful musicians have fallen all over this spectrum. Some manage to create music that both fulfills their artistic aims and their fans needs, Others sacrifice their own artistic aims for greater success. Mark Hollis did the harder and rarer option, He followed his own vision at the expense of his success within the industry and did it after proving that he had the ability to make what was de rigueur at the time.
Mark Hollis dedicated himself to his principles and in turn created some massively underappreciated gems that are proving their quality with the test of time. For that he should be respected and remembered not as just a musician, singer and composer but as a true artist.