Such a shame


Talk Talk has a music legacy of its own and to learn about the passing of Mark Hollis is sad, to say the least. Although he has been out of the music industry for many years his legacy lingers on. Remember even how I tried to imitate the handwriting style of Hollis when in high school and how I made a painting of the whole band lined up as they were on their third album.

Why he dissapeared out of music is still a bit fuzzy, but Hollis expressed awareness that he could be “a difficult geezer” but that was because he refused to “play that game” that came with the role of musician in the spotlight.

Starting out as a challenger to Duran Duran and Roxy Music with their two first albums they, or rather Mark, chose a different route exploring silence. Mark Hollis’ legacy is silence, but it didn’t begin there. There were precedents for the slow, sprawling emptiness that became his signature—first sonically, as the frontman of post-rock legends Talk Talk, and then with his very existence, as he retreated from the public world following his lone solo album in 1998. In interviews, Hollis attributed his use of silence in music to a fascination with jazz—John Coltrane, Miles Davis with Gil Evans—as well as composers like John Cage and Ravel. He liked music constructed with more room than it physically demanded. That way, he observed, you could hear every little movement: the way guitar strings vibrate as a note dies out; the raspy, winding sound of a long exhale into a harmonica. You listen to his music the way you navigate an open field. Hollis sang quietly; he considered volume in the spatial sense.

In their early state Talk Talk bedecked their songs with synthesisers and the modish sound of fretless bass: their drummer played one of those octagonal Simmons electronic kits. Their 1982 debut album The Party’s Over was glossy and derivative, nothing to frighten the horses, although the lyrics of the title track suggested a certain jarring intensity: “Take this punishment away Lord … too much hope I’ve seen as virtue.” Its follow-up, It’s My Life, was a bigger hit – a Top 10 smash on the continent, its title track a US chart breakthrough – but something about it suggested that the kind of scream-inducing fame Talk Talk were apparently being groomed for wasn’t going to sit right.

It was success beyond the UK’s borders which provided the band with the necessary bigger budgets to make the music of which Hollis dreamed. With Brenner now gone, and producer Tim Friese-Green joining their ranks as an unofficial fourth member, 1986’s The Colour Of Spring was the first indication of his greater ambitions.

In ‘Life’s What You Make It’ and ‘Living In Another World’, the band delivered massive, enduring hits, though in retrospect the album is most fascinating for the realms it foreshadowed. The free-floating ‘April 5th’, on which Hollis’ voice had never sounded more aching, and the cryptic, skeletal ‘Chameleon Day’, at first seemed baffling to anyone reared on the New Romantic diet, but they represented Hollis’ first deep dive into the very worlds for which he’d earlier professed admiration: “From the place that I stand,” that distinctive voice sang on ‘Give it Up’, the words seemingly condensing the journey he’d now undertaken, “to the land that is openly free.”

After the release of Talk Talk’s hushed masterpieces, Spirit of Edenand its even quieter follow-up, 1991’s Laughing Stock, Hollis’ sound never really disappeared. It was there in the rise of post-rock; in the merging of ambient and popular music, through shoegaze and beyond; in any band reinventing themselves by slowing down and spreading out, in defiance to accessibility. His most vocal supporters have always been fellow musicians, because in his story was a path toward finding peace without compromising your vision.