Thursday, September 06, 2012

Album Review

Spirit of Talk Talk
Various Artists

Such a shame that Such A Shame isn't on this tribute. Such A Shame is my favourite song of all time; the single best record I have ever heard. It has been my favourite record since the early 1980s; it has never been usurped. It remains to this day the best song, accompanied by the best video ever made and performed by the greatest band that ever walked the face of this cruddy little planet.

I threw shit at this band in 1982. I loved them in 1983 and by 1998, when the genius called Mark Hollis released his, to date, only solo effort, I was just one of many many thousands of people who believed that Talk Talk had transcended their initial Europop image and become the inventors of Post-Rock and were the most uncategorisable band in music. By the time Hollis gave it all up, every Tom, Dick and Renee was clamouring to say they'd been following Talk Talk for ever... But, truly, honestly, there weren't that many of us in the UK.

The incredible thing about the latter work of this band is that almost 25 years later it hasn't aged. The stuff recorded in the late 1980s could have been done in the late 2000s. Yes, that Europop stuff is best consigned to the depths of the record collection, but maybe not It's My Life, the second studio album that was full of European money-making hits and also had the first hints of what this band were truly capable of. Take Such A Shame as an example. Why on Earth hasn't it been covered on this compilation? I can't answer that, although I'm sure I could probably find out, but I can hypothesise that it's just too weird a song to really do it justice. The later, jazz influenced stuff, is, in a perverse kind of way, far easier to cover than Such A Shame is, and that might be because it's a very odd song with a strange time signature, some backwards bits and a lot of anger - I have heard a couple of cover versions and I've wanted to remove the spleens of the artists responsible with their own live cats.

So what's The Spirit of Talk Talk like? Well, it looks like a Talk Talk album because James Marsh has designed the cover. It sounds... ooh... it sounds like an album of Talk Talk songs done by other people and the initial reaction is to switch it off and listen to the originals; they are, after all, quite possibly some of the best pieces of music that have been written in the last million years. But... You have to give them a chance, these homages, because up until last week the chances of hearing (or seeing) anything from Mark Hollis other than an obituary was as likely as me coming on Karen Gillan's tits (obviously news of new music from the maestro has found me stalking Ms Gillan while clutching a stack of porn mags...).

The weird thing about this album is some of the tracks - way more than half - are unbelievably respectful to the source material and offer the new artist's the chance to play with the toys of gods with due reverence and just a little bit of dynamism. Many years ago, the only other album like this I've really enjoyed was Stay Awake, a Disney tribute with the likes of Tom Waits, Bonnie Raitt, Suzanne Vega, Los Lobos, Syd Straw, and the stuff by Ken Nordine, with Bill Frisell and Wayne Horvitz (with some really dark stuff that made you wonder if Disney really sanctioned this album); it was quite a ... magical album and very few of these tributes since have ever come close. A perfect example was the recent Pink Floyd DSotM tribute album that left me cold and uninspired after first listen and has never been played again. That like this Talk Talk tribute has a line up I've barely heard of and isn't that usually the problem with these things - surely for a band as important as Talk Talk we should have all the current mega-hot bands doing their covers? But would that make it any good? Florence belting out Give it Up or Rizzle Kicks doing Living in Another World; or even the inevitable Jesse J murdering something.

Still, out of 30 tracks (28 if you take into account that Give it Up and I Believe in You are both covered twice) there's probably only 7 or 8 where you'd have hoped for a better choice or sound. I would have liked to have seen versions of Happiness is Easy, Again a Game... Again, It's You, The Last Time, Daily Planet and as I said earlier Such A Shame, but that didn't happen, but who knows, Hollis might be tempted out of retirement to do something he hated doing (playing live) and choose to play all my favourites... and I might come all over Karen Gillan's tits...

I appreciate this isn't exactly a review of the album. I could tell you that Lone Wolf; S. Carey; Duncan Sheik; Halloween, Alaska; Zelienople, Recoil, Ian Curnow and shit loads of others poured their hearts into producing an album that I am both delighted with and slightly melancholy about. As these type of albums go, it's got to be worth your money (and profits go to a really good cause).

I'd just like to say, for the record, that this album has reaffirmed my opinion (already stated, I believe) that Talk Talk were undoubtedly the greatest group of people ever to pick up musical instruments and Mark Hollis is one of my heroes. And yes, I am aware this is a fawning, forelock tugging and generally gushing adulation of a band that will never read my words, but in the immortal words of Mr Hollis, "I feel really weird standing here like this," and that just about sums it up...

7.5 out of 10

(19 out of 10 for the band that inspired it)

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