Talk Talk - Spirit of Eden (1988)
Listening time: 40 mins
Favourite track: I Believe in You
There are few bands in history brave enough to alienate their fan base to the extent that Talk Talk did back in 1988. The band’s earlier synth-pop work, such as the listener-friendly It’s My Life, feels a world apart from their experimental output four years later (or more like several galaxies apart). With the band barring their record label from entering the studio in 1987, what we are left with is an unfiltered, refreshingly authentic album, and one that unusually hasn’t been watered down to keep the old fans on board. The myths surrounding the recording sessions for Spirit of Eden remain just as enticing as the music itself. Tales of a pitch-black studio stripped of clocks, a cacophony of musicians all asked to improvise for hours, and the piecing together of the album likened to finishing a 100-piece puzzle from 50,000 possible pieces, all amount to the question: how was it completed at all?
The musicality and sonic qualities of Spirit of Eden are best appreciated when actively listened to, so if picking up this album for the first time I highly recommend finding a quiet space with a good pair of headphones, or listening on vinyl (if you’re lucky enough to be able to). The painstaking amount of time and effort taken to make this record ensures that nothing feels out of place, an incredible feat considering the vast number of instruments used - the woodwind quartet in the middle of the track Inheritance is a perfect example of how suddenly the different textures come and go.
I can’t remember the last time I listened to an album that goes from 0 to 100 as often and as quickly as this one, whilst maintaining momentum and interest throughout. The track Desire epitomises these extreme shifts in volume and intensity, with the first two and a half minutes lulling the listener into a slumber with its relentlessly hypnotic guitar riff on three chords. A sudden burst of screeching guitar followed by an exploding drum kit should be more than enough to wake you up before the same thing happens all over again.
What I also love about this album is that I can hear the extent to which it paved the way for so many artists who came after it. The track I Believe in You could be a collaboration between Sigur Rós and Radiohead, with its spaced out vocal line floating on a cloud of reverb and delay, beneath it a continuously rolling drum beat and one of the smoothest organ sounds I’ve ever heard. The intermittent ethereal voices reminiscent of a cathedral choir leave me wanting more, which is not an easy thing to achieve in a song already over six minutes long.
This album is not an easy one to describe, with its continuously changing landscape and meticulously crafted arrangement from start to finish you really have to listen to it for yourself to pick up on things so easily missed. The scary truth is that the editing process of Spirit of Eden could quite easily have turned it into a number of different albums, each more experimental and unexpected than the last. Fortunately, the one we are presented with is an accumulation of decisions made by a band who were making timeless art for themselves, as opposed to chart toppers for their label.