Talk Talk began their career in 1981 as a synth-pop new wave band who looked pretty and sounded slick and shuffled gawkily around the New Romantic fringes – they were certainly dark and synthy enough to interest the New Romantic crowd, but far too interested in jazz to merit actual New Romantic status – scoring hits with Talk Talk, Mirror Man and Today, and touring with EMI stable-mates Duran Duran.
Clapping eyes on Talk Talk in 1982 – all skinny ties and hair-sprayed wedges – the word ‘influential’ would not have sprung to mind.
They were generally considered – if considered at all – a duller Xerox of the Brummie dandies.
Guitarist and singer Mark Hollis reorganised the line-up during the recording of their second album, 1984’s It’s My Life, and while it was slightly more experimental than their previous album – a little more like Roxy Music than Duran Duran – it still followed traditional pop structures.
Then they appeared to wake up one day as a grown-up band, just in time for their third album, 1986’s The Colour Of Spring. They lost keyboard player Simon Brenner and employed the services of producer Tim Friese-Greene – an experimental foil for the emotional songwriting of Hollis.
Next, Hollis and Friese-Greene broke up the band’s previously inflexible format, augmenting drummer Lee Harris and bassist Paul Webb with a host of guest players, including Steve Winwood, bassist Danny Thompson, and Pretenders guitarist Robbie McIntosh.
The Colour Of Spring was a revelation. Hollis’s emotionally bruised mumble implored on an album loaded with rainy-day melancholia, including the maudlin hit Life’s What You Make It.
The follow-up, Spirit Of Eden (1988), recorded in a disused church, reputedly reduced their A&R man to tears when he realised how bereft of potential singles it was.
With more pregnant pauses, splashes of colour and layers of sleepy angst, it was a beautiful-sounding record but not quite the equal of its predecessor. It proved to be a commercial disaster and led to EMI dropping the band.
Talk Talk sued. EMI counter-sued, then put out a Greatest Hits and a remix atrocity, History Revisited, that Hollis blocked in court. To then pile irony on top of insult, Talk Talk were nominated for a Best Newcomer Brit Award.
Talk Talk then signed with Polydor Records, releasing Laughing Stock in 1991.