I loved Talk Talk, more and more as they progressed from their commercial yet signature haunting debut (The Party’s Over) through weirder and more complex iterations. This album, The Colour of Spring, contains possibly my favourite of all their singles, Life’s What You Make It.
The band first came to prominence in 1982 with the phenomenal hit single Today. I remember first seeing them perform it on an evening entertainment programme on what was Granada Television, now ITV. They were immediately compared to another band with a duplication in their name, Duran Duran, but in truth they were very different. Although both bands at the time were producing pop music, Talk Talk had a certain sadness and angst in their output, in contrast to Duran Duran’s romantic escapism. Duran Duran were a boyband at the height of their fame; Talk Talk never showed any interest in getting their faces onto teenage bedroom walls.
Following their sophomore pop album, It’s My Life, Talk Talk’s music as evidenced in 1986 on their third album, The Colour of Spring, was classified as ‘post-rock’. It was on the cusp of becoming avant-garde, which the next album (Spirit of Eden) arguably was. Although well-made and thoughtfully constructed, Spirit of Eden was not a commercial success. It felt, listening to it, that it wasn’t meant to be.
Mark Hollis, the band’s singer, died at the age of 64 two days before my birthday in February 2019. I was deeply saddened to learn of his passing. His singing voice was distinctive, providing that aforementioned haunted quality to Talk Talk’s music, arguably reaching peak sorrow in The Colour of Spring. Hollis was uncompromising as an artist, having no motivating interest in commercial success even when the band was commercially successful.
The Colour of Spring opened with Happiness is Easy, a song delivered in such a way as to suggest happiness isn’t easy to achieve or maintain at all. Other songs on the album carry a burden of sadness, such as I Don’t Believe in You, which is a gut-wrenchingly sad track speaking of broken trust and promises. Despite the weight of some of the songs on it, the album isn’t a downer, although I imagine the butterflies on the cover as being pinned, rather than alive. Talk Talk always had distinctive album and single artworks that I liked a lot, surreal and beautiful but, at the same time, a little disturbing.
There’s a sense of progression in Talk Talk’s output, from being constrained within a pop template in the beginning to becoming free by the time of Spirit of Eden‘s release. The Colour of Spring is the transitional album, one foot in pop, the other not. It is an album that conveys no time for bullshit, do what you want to do, don’t play me for a fool – and, as such, there’s a defiant optimism and determination that only comes through, I think, after repeat listens.