I’ve told the story of how I stumbled upon Talk Talk‘s Spirit Of Eden before, but that story doesn’t illustrate much into how jaw-dropping brilliant the album is and how because of that it can inspire other bands to make like-minded epic statements.
To start with, we need to go back twenty years ago…the year that Spirit Of Eden was made…and try to convey how completely unexpected it was. Leader Mark Hollis had made a few Talk Talk albums up to that point that were literal definitions of New Wave music. In fact, he made good New Wave albums, the kind you weren’t necessarily ashamed of, but nothing that demonstrated that they were capable of much beyond the genre they were originally attached to.
They were successful at it, scoring a few hits here stateside (“It’s My Life” and “Life’s What You Make It”) and probably even a few more in their native England. To try to deviate from their proven method was probably met with enormous resistance from band members, record company executives and fans alike. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…and Talk Talk seemed to be pushing ahead just fine. Why Hollis then chose to create album number four with such a huge gulf compared to his previous work is curious. It only becomes clearer the moment you hear Spirit Of Eden for yourself: it’s because Mark Hollis was channeling something much more than sheer muse itself. It was as if there was indeed a higher power manning the controls of Hollis’ pen and the studio control room.
You hear it immediately: organic instruments, horns, strings, choirs; these are major steps away from Talk Talk’s previous synthesizer tinkering. Hollis’ voice also seems to be channeling cathartic powers as he muses on such themes as addiction and loss. There’s a moment on “I Believe In You,” a song about the perils of heroin, where Hollis musters a defiant “Enough! Ain’t it enough, crippled world?” that brings tears to my eyes two decades after first hearing it.
With six tracks clocking in at forty minutes, Talk Talk cleverly place jazz-like arrangements underneath wide melodramatic atmospheres. It’s slowly paced (the first hint of “rock” takes seventeen-and-a-half minutes to appear) but never boring. The drama that Spirit Of Eden creates keeps you glued to it for that entire forty minutes and will stay with you for years afterwards.