Talk Talk – The Spirit of Eden (Parlophone – 1988)

It is my firm belief that to adequately describe this album we would require a language as innovative, nuanced and rich as the music contained on the polycarbonate disc on to which it was subsequently released. Prior to this all introspection has been superficial. All instrumentation has been misused, all emotion falsified; forever too loud.  From the head of The Rainbow strings meld trumpets with trumpets and the wind before a reverbed Fender and driven harmonica come in with a beat that would set Chicago post-rock off on a route from which now seems so obvious it is hard to believe that previously it did not exist. It is impossible to consider this record’s creation, no instrument seems to provide a foundation for which a song could ever be built, like a mountain scene, it begins with the grass of the flat lands, with the plates of the Earth, with the edge of the sky, with the carve of a river through stone and with the history of glaciers. It is competition with nothing, it is still and towering, a new representation of British nature and industry.

Most terminology that would normally be appropriate for describing this work have been rendered redundant through lazy over use and misapplication. Jazzy, orchestral, sprawling, ambient, intense, ethereal, accomplished, enveloping are no longer strong enough descriptors. Hollis sings on The Rainbow “Lenient, The song the lawyer sang, Our nation’s wrong” over a bewildering babbling brook of instrumentation, its point of origin is obscure, fluttering past in harmonious confusion and this is where the chorus should be. This album was apparently recorded in such circumstances that make Loveless look haphazard and was largely improvised before being fashioned together into song using a process that was more Bitches Brew than It’s My Life. The assembled cast of musicians who replaced the first three albums’ synthesisers ensured that this album would never be recreated live, the strong jazz and classical heritage also pushed it out of time, a fresh day as old as the hills. The sense of quiet amplified affords a level of build normally ignored in modern pop/rock means size is afforded, because sections of Eden are so quiet it can be fragile and noticeable in its loudness.

The album recalls the myth of ‘The Green Man’, it is nature itself, Pan-like, a pre-Christian figure that features heavily in religious imagery, occult but not devillish, Spring’s chill from Winter’s cold, omnipresent like an unconscious collective memory, Britain pastures more violent than Elgar dared portray. ‘Nature’s son, Don’t you know where life has gone, Burying progress in the clouds’, this is the Spirit of Eden, green and lush, barren and harsh, occurring and unending, a paradise lost, pre-fall and fallen. Even normally laboured lyrical vagaries around religion or drug imagery retain potency. Hollis was supposedly obsessed with becoming Nature’s Son during the making of this album, this is helped in no small part by the rich mix of acoustic instrumentation used, Danny Thompson’s rich upright bass is high in the mix with the cello and brass section, sparked up up against organs and electric guitars and the ‘accidental’ (nothing was accidental on this album) noises left in to retain the feeling that this was created by humans capable of temptation.

The most striking facet of this record though is Hollis’ voice itself, operating a register all of its own, as brittle and corrupt as it is forlorn, pure and whispered, nothing if not singular, it is the record’s tender heart. The feeling is akin to that of standing too close to a fire, the burning goes right through you but you dare not move as you now know that the rest of the world is a colder place by comparison.  By the time of the record’s penultimate track I Believe In You the way he delivers the single word ‘spirit’ has become vital, one of the most heartfelt things I have ever heard, his grasp of melody amidst the floating music prevents this from becoming meandering neo-prog and reinforces it with an authenticity and passion that matches the classical dynamism of the music to a degree which may not have been seen in modern music since.

To overstate this album’s influence would be difficult, without it Spiritualized, Sigur Ros, Elbow, Radiohead, Doves, Tortoise to name but a few big hitters, would all sound radically different if they should exist at all (Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space in particular sounds ‘danger close’ in parts to sections of this album).  While making notes about this record I’d written that “I can’t describe the magnificence of the sun as I am too close to look at directly while I cannot describe the glory in the stars as there are too many and they are too far away, I can only write from where I stand,” while I’m unsure exactly what I meant with this it seems to sum up this endeavour, to my mind this is one of the greatest records ever made, describing exactly why has proven elusive as capturing Nature itself.

Adam Hiles

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