Artist Profile: Talk Talk

Compilation Album Cover Image Courtesy of EMI/Disky

Formed:

1981 in London, England

Core Band Members:

  • Mark Hollis (born Mark David Hollis on January 4, 1955 in London, England) - Lead vocals, keyboards, guitar, primary songwriter
  • Lee Harris (born Lee David Harris on July 20, 1962 in England) - Drums, percussion, occasional early songwriter
  • Paul Webb (born Paul Douglas Webb on January 16, 1962 in Essex, England) - Bass guitar, backing vocals, occasional early songwriter

    Other Key Members/Contributors:

    • Tim Friese-Greene - Keyboards, production, primary songwriter
    • Simon Brenner - Keyboards, occasional early songwriter

    Overview:

    During the early and mid '80s, British synth pop bands were not necessarily hard to find. However, very few possessed the haunting intensity of Talk Talk, a group blessed with the plaintive, emotional high tenor of Hollis and also a unique take on using synthesizer textures. Never particularly comfortable with their "assignment" to the synth pop and new wave genres, the group's primary quartet of active contributors refused to settle on a trendy sound and instead hurtled down some risky experimental musical paths - especially toward the end of their career as a unit. For this reason, commercial success came early and not all that often, but Talk Talk fans and also musicians and music observers who have detected the group's influence on experimental alternative music in subsequent decades hold a special reverence for this underrated band.

    Early Years:

    Hollis was always the main creative force for Talk Talk. The band's history goes back to the late '70s when his band The Reaction attempted to take the early sound of punk rock into a slightly more novel direction. That group recorded a single and made some demos, but the original Talk Talk quartet (including Brenner) made real progress when observers linked its sound to the burgeoning New Romantic movement.

    Associations and comparisons with rising superstar band Duran Duran pigeonholed Talk Talk for a while, long enough to gain favorable response to 1982's debut LP, The Party's Over. Singles "Today" and "Talk Talk" became modest U.K. hits, leading the group to delay the wandering impulse that would soon lead it away from commercial pop.

    Peak of Success and Musical Growth:

    1984's would yield the group's most accessible song of its career in the form of the title track, a tune that also happens to be one of the most melodically rewarding synth-fueled singles of the era. An overlap effect helped 1986's Colour of Spring perform even better on the U.K. album chart, as that record vaulted into the Top 10 in most European markets. However, even by this time, the solid composing partnership of Hollis and Friese-Greene had begun to move the band into denser, more instrumentally varied territory. By the time 1991's Laughing Stock was released, the music of Talk Talk scarcely resembled the pop-oriented material of the band's early years.

    Influence and Legacy:

    Many observers consider Talk Talk to be perhaps the most important '80s band in terms of the development of '90s alternative subgenre, post-rock.

    An emphasis on instrumental ingenuity over melody and familiar pop music structures certainly characterized Talk Talk's later years, so it's reasonable to suggest the group paved the way for iconoclastic anti-rock impulses that have sometimes declared traditional rock music approaches to be outdated if not useless. Still, the overall development of Talk Talk as a band takes into account not only the group's frustrations with music industry expectations but also the ability of Hollis in particular to craft and sing some hauntingly beautiful synth-pop for the ages.