- by Ljubinko Zivkovic Rating:10 Release Date:1991-10-01 Label: Polydor
Unfortunately, and that goes for everybody involved, the about-face Talk Talk went through in their career didn’t bode so well. Particularly for the band. At some point, Mark Hollis and the guys, seemed to have suddenly put on a completely different set of musical clothes, turning from pop and big label (EMI), and rock journalists’ darlings to moody avant-garde experimentalists, being derided by the music press at that time, to currently being proclaimed as the progenitors of post-rock.
All that culminated after EMI dropped them from the roster after Spirit of Eden (1988), their fourth album when the change of musical direction became evident, and Laughing Stock (1991) arrived. Some at-the-time renowned members of the music press lambasted the album, of course, completely missing the mark because some 27 years on it turns out to be the band’s masterpiece.
Now, being Talk Talk’s masterpiece doesn’t necessarily have to mean much in general, but the significance of Laughing Stock is getting its rightful place. The re-evaluation already started some seven years later when Mark Hollis came with his brilliant eponymous and sole album, that seemed to be like the final point in a chapter Hollis wanted to put on the whole thing.
Both albums, start off with a silence that seems to last an eternity as if Hollis had in mind that line from “Rawhide” a track from Scott Walker’s seminal Climate of the Hunter album where Walker proclaims “This is how you disappear out between midnight”. Then in comes “Myrrhman”, a piece that can be called anything but rock, and it still was. Jazz, rhythms, hushed tones, classical instrumentation. Absolute brilliance.
“Ascension Day” is supposed to be ‘loud’, but it is that combination of hot and cold that is truly undefinable, as if Hollis and the band were trying to tell their listeners, this is what pop should sound like. They didn’t catch on to it. At least not then. Throughout the album, you get this sense of cohesion and compositional unity. But it turns out that the compositional process was much more complicated than that and that the band actually used pieces of melodies, rhythms, and improvisations and then combined them into songs, something you can’t notice anywhere through the hushed tones of “After The Flood” or “Taphead”.
Nor is that evident in “New Grass”, the album's best piece that goes through circular motions with its keyboards and guitar coda while all the other elements, including Hollis’ voice, come and go as if they were attracted and then released by some invisible magnets. In the end, “Runeii” is mostly built around the guitar and Hollis’ almost inaudible voice, turning into a silence that continued into Hollis’ solo album.
Now, many post-rockers cite Laughing Stock as their inspiration, probably through name-checking rather than actually listening to the album at all. For that reason, many discount its influence on the likes of say, Slint or any of the more current purveyors of the sound. But then, even if Labradford or Godspeed! You Black Emperor, for example, may have not heard the album, its sound definitely precedes, many of the musical explorations that came on later, so it might be a late realization, but you know what they teach you in kindergarten already - better late than never.
Since the band split right after the album was released, its members Lee Harris and Paul Webb re-appeared in O’Rang, another cult offering while after that solo album, Hollis was not heard of again. Maybe he took that Scott Walker line a bit too literally.