Monday, 15 April 2013

Albums for Life: 22: Talk Talk: Spirit of Eden

We listen too much to the telephone and we listen too little to nature. The wind is one of my sounds. A lonely sound, perhaps, but soothing. Everybody should have his personal sounds to listen for—sounds that will make him exhilarated and alive, or quiet and calm... As a matter of fact, one of the greatest sounds of them all—and to me it is a sound—is utter, complete silence. 
~André Kostelanetz

"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music."

~Aldous Huxley

“If you develop an ear for sounds that are musical it is like developing an ego. You begin to refuse sounds that are not musical and that way cut yourself off from a good deal of experience.”
~John Cage 

"Silence is more musical than any song."
~Christina Rossetti

I'd always been a song man. 
This was the album that really introduced me to the importance of silence and sound.
I guess that at the time of its release many might have regarded 'Spirit of Eden' as commercial suicide. After the chart success of 1986's 'The Colour of Spring' the band retreated to Wessex studios during 1987 and 1988. Overseen by the band's creative conscience Mark Hollis and the returning producer, Tim Friese-Greene, the musicians often recorded in darkness as they improvised unscripted performances that were eventually edited down to this final form. 
Almost impossible to categorize, the best that the critics could do was 'alternative' or 'post rock'. It was everything and nothing: rock, jazz, ambient, classical. Engineer Phil Brown remembers that the album was "recorded by chance, accident, and hours of trying every possible overdub idea." 
The band sent EMI a cassette of the final mixes. EMI were bemused and asked singer Mark Hollis to consider re recording.
He refused.
There was stalemate with the band eventually leaving the label after a prolonged wrangle.
The album was brilliant but unmarketable and effectively untourable...
Hollis noted: "There is no way that I could ever play again a lot of the stuff I played on this album because I just wouldn't know how to. So, to play it live, to take a part that was done in spontaneity, to write it down and then get someone to play it, would lose the whole point, lose the whole purity of what it was in the first place."
Upon release The Spectator labelled it 'almost willfully obscure."

It's a beautiful but challenging album. 
It whispers and occasionally screams.
You can hear the players thinking as they play; the space between the notes as important as the notes themselves. 
Again, it makes you forget about song and really think about sound
There is calm, there are occasional moments of stormy discord. 
It's textured and often quite glacial in tempo. 
This isn't driving music, you need to immerse yourself in it; you've got to want to love its muted melancholy, to indulge the ambition that many still dismiss as pretension. 
Difficult to categorise?
Let's call it 'Art'.
Because of 'Spirit of Eden' Talk Talk are now rightly recognized as pioneers; it's a massively influential album. Would Sigur Ros, Mogwai or Radiohead have had the courage to make such challenging music without this recording's legacy?
Apparently Elbow's Guy Garvey is having 'New Grass' from this album's follow up 'Laughing Stock' played at his funeral... but this isn't music for funerals; this should be played at birthing pools around the world. Birth and rebirth: many have noted that 'Eden...' was a genesis, where their musical life began. 
Both 'Laughing Stock' and Hollis's solo album mined a similar vein but for me 'Spirit of Eden' remains the mother lode.
It certainly encouraged me to listen to certain music differently; silence over sound, sound over song. 


  1. Of course, I like the quotes.

    Some other good ones:

    "Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent." (Victor Hugo)

    "Music is the art which is most nigh to tears and memory." (Oscar Wilde)

    "Music is the cup which holds the wine of silence." (Robert Fripp)
    Myrna clipped this from the local newspaper yesterday, and I've been sharing it with friends...


    About two hours into my first day of work as a Walmart greeter, a very loud, ugly woman walked into the store with her two kids, yelling obscenities at them all the way through the entrance.
    As I had been instructed, I said pleasantly, "Good morning and welcome to Wal-Mart. Nice children you have there. Are they twins?"
    The Mom answered, "Hell no, they ain't twins. The oldest one's 9, and the other one's 7. Why the hell would you think they're twins? Are you blind, or just stupid?"
    So I replied, "I'm neither blind nor stupid, Ma'am, I just couldn't believe that anyone would fuck you twice. Have a good day and thank you for shopping at Wal-Mart."

    1. just spat coffee over my keyboard ..cheers Tim!!

  2. 'Tears and Memory'
    Maybe the title of the next MM album...
    Fripp's quote is nice too; not bad for a guitarist.
    And Myrna's story; excellent.
    I'm going to hang around Tesco's this afternoon and see if I can slip that line into the conversation...

  3. What a great unexpected choice Mr Jones. I don't review many albums on Amazon but I did for this album. It's all about the silence.

  4. I know we talked about this one in comments somewhere else, Trevor. One of the albums that is asking me why I left it out. You can get lost in it. It's an earphones in a forest album for me.

  5. This is certainly one group I would have in my top collection, although the album of choice would be the Colour of Spring. I went to a concert in the early 1980's to see another group where Talk Talk were the support. I didn't (and don't) even remember the other group, but Talk Talk blew me away with the uniqueness and quality of their music. Enjoyed their songs ever since. Good choice, Trevor!