Talk Talk: The Spirit of Eden

RIP Mark Hollis • Words by Bryan Yates with images by Tim Schamber

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

It’s quite possible you don’t know Talk Talk’s fourth album “Spirit of Eden.” It’s also quite possible you remember the English band only for its early ’80s synth-pop singles: “Talk Talk” and “It’s My Life” (later covered by No Doubt). If your knowledge of Talk Talk stops there, I understand.

Initially promoted by label execs as the New Romantic movement’s next Duran Duran, the band took a hard, reinventing turn when it released “Spirit.” Atmospheric, thought provoking and experimental, this album boldly redefined who the band was and what it was about. Talk Talk managed to create an album that is completely noncommercial but remarkable for its stop-you-in-your-tracks accessibility. Even more remarkable is that “Spirit of Eden” is nearly 30 years old, but sounds as if it could have been released yesterday.

As the myth goes, Talk Talk secured a huge advance based on the bona fides of its earlier commercial successes. The band went into 14 months of intensive closed-door production, keeping label execs locked entirely out of the process. The result: a baffling album that impressionistically interweaves rock, jazz, classical and ambient parts into six cohesive songs that demand a back-to-back listen. This is not an album to play on random or hear in segments.

I first experienced “Spirit of Eden” in a friend’s apartment sometime in 1994. Living room shades drawn, just enough to let in a bit of that afternoon’s waning light, Paul readied the gin and tonics, put in the disc, pressed play and turned up the volume…loud! I then settled into the best 40-minute semihypnotic pseudo nap of my life—a nap by which all other naps have been and will be judged.

The album’s spaciousness is immediately seductive. Space is abundant throughout, coaxing and enveloping. It plays a role every bit as important as the instrumental or vocal sections. That use of space could have easily come off as soft and new age-y. It does not. Think, rather, French composer Erik Satie or Miles Davis’ “Sketches of Spain” with a rock edge. Just as the album’s spaciousness seems to take permanent hold, it crescendos into an all-out attack that stops and retreats as abruptly as it started.

I’ve listened to “Spirit of Eden” thousands of times since that first experience. Each time, I find some new sound or subtle detail missed. It’s an album that was more assembled than it was premeditated or pre-rehearsed. All the instruments are natural, and individual parts were improvised then layered in with other parts during the editing process. This could have resulted in a disjointed product, but the end sound is completely pure and organic.

Here’s the bold pronouncement. Draw a line connecting Massive Attack, Portishead, and Radiohead’s later work. Now, look at the start of that line and you’ll likely find “Spirit of Eden” at or near it. Works from those artists exist because Talk Talk produced what is now considered a cult classic album.

But don’t take my word for it. Close the shades some late afternoon, settle into a cozy sofa, press play and experience the semi-hypnotic pseudo nap for yourself.

TALK TALK “Spirit of Eden”

1. The rainbow: 9:03
2. Eden: 6:37
3. Desire: 7:09
4. Inheritance: 5:20
5. I believe in you: 6:09
6. Wealth: 6:36

Equally as good include: Laughing Stock (1991) and the solo, self-titled Mark Hollis album (1998).

Trending on Velo

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.