Sunken Treasure: ‘The Colour of Spring’ by Mark Hollis

Instead of sticking to the predetermined roadmap for burgeoning pop acts, Talk Talk’s brush with fame precipitated a shift away from the shallow end towards previously uncharted waters

 

There are very few stories in popular music like that of Mark Hollis. The arc of the narrative reaches inexorably upwards from a fairly inauspicious start with two albums of shimmering synth pop by Talk Talk in 1981 and 1984. From there the mystery deepens considerably. Instead of sticking to the predetermined roadmap for burgeoning pop acts, their brush with fame precipitated a shift away from the shallow end towards previously uncharted waters.

The Colour of Spring in 1986 was world’s away from its predecessor. A whole new world of sound opened up once Tim Freise-Greene became the band’s producer and collaborator in chief. The die was cast. The next two chapters yielded abundant riches. The commercial success of the singles from The Colour of Spring provided Hollis with the funds and power to wrestle complete creative control. The extent to which he ran with that was a measure of his commitment to finding his way to the very heart and soul of the matter. The Spirit of Eden took a year and a half to make. Lovers of its layered majesty will know it was time well spent but its beauty and grace were lost on record company ears. There began a battle with the corporate world that would eventually lead to him beating a permanent retreat from the business.

Laughing Stock was next; another dark and eloquent masterpiece, deeply atmospheric and brimful of muted colours and emotional heat. Talk Talk ended there.

This quiet solo effort, released seven years later, is the epilogue to the story. It’s one small step away from the silence that followed it. The scale of the work is different. Everything is reduced. The understated instrumental interplay of wood, metal, wind and strings are the foundations upon which Hollis whispers his parting words. It’s a startlingly beautiful and restrained goodbye. His haunting voice is so close it envelopes you. The intimacy renders it achingly affecting. It’s hymnal, personal and spiritual. Like a prayer.

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