Talk Talk's Mark Hollis RIP

Talk Talk's Mark Hollis (center in photo) has died at age 64 after a "short illness". Readers unfamiliar with the group's astonishing later albums and who lump the group in with late '70s synth bands might not understand why this is news but those who know Hollis's later Talk Talk albums Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock surely do. Hollis later released a self-titled solo album recorded with two microphones that ends with two minutes of tape hiss.

While those albums sold poorly upon release they have become costly collectibles both because of the powerful music and the astonishing sound produced by veteran recording engineer Phill Brown, who AnalogPlanet editor Michael Fremer was fortunate to interview two years ago at his U.K. home. Please watch for a greater understanding of Mark Hollis and the uncompromising music he made. Though many Talk Talk fans clamored for the albums to be reissued, especially on vinyl, Hollis wasn't interested in revisiting the past. Now perhaps at some point the albums will be re-issued.

Turntable designer Mark Döhmann and Audio Skies (Pear Audio Blue turntables) distributor Michael Vamos are two big Talk Talk fans, both of whom never needed an excuse to use the group's later albums as demo show material for both the music and the astonishing sound. Vamos sent this heartfelt obit:

Its a day of mourning for music lovers everywhere - (Mark Hollis), ingenious lead singer, songwriter and musician of Talk Talk is dead!!!

People may only remember Talk Talk from their hits, "It’s My Life" and "Life’s What You Make It", but Talk Talk’s last two albums, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock are absolute musical masterpieces and something far beyond the norm. Mark Hollis was Talk Talk’s lead singer, main composer and songwriter and played a score of instruments. Talk Talk gained quick success as a Brit Synth pop band in the early 80’s, starting with their self-titled single "Talk Talk" from 1980. They released a total of 5 albums, each album becoming more complex and sophisticated. They gained widely critical and commercial success with their third album, The Color of Spring. After their success, their record label told them they could do whatever they wanted. They must have rubbed their hands together with a big grin and exhaled: “Finally!”. Because they took their label’s words to heart and spent the better part of 87 and 88 recording the radically different Spirit of Eden.

They did not tour Spirit of Eden, there are no pictures on the albums, and the first track starts with several minutes of organ sounds - not a hit in sight. A new genre was born! A mix between jazz and rock, with pauses, tempo shifts and with Mark using his voice as an instrument as part of the soundscape, instead of the traditional lead singer with the music as background. For their last album they changed labels and went even further off the edge of the world, with the even better Laughing Stock in 1991. Mark Hollis released his self-titled solo album in 1998 and then retired completely from music and the spotlight to be with his family.

Talk Talk’s last two albums served as a major inspiration for many current bands, including Radiohead and The Doves. I remember hosting a gathering of drunk friends, and suddenly playing the track: “Renee”. Guests fell silent, stopped moving, mesmerized by his voice - for a moment we felt like Renee - all listened in silence, mesmerized and hypnotized. Listen to "Renee" and marvel at his voice - hell, listen to any track by him and marvel.

A lot has been said about the brilliant music of their last albums, but Mark Hollis has (sorry, had) one of the most evocative and haunting voices I’ve ever heard. You can hear the quiet force of his voice, but regardless of how much air he moved, his voice never distorted, A kind of raw force wrapped in warm flowing honey.

In a seldom late interview Mark said “Learn to play one note well, before you play two”. His quiet insistence on only doing what he truly loved and not giving in to commercial concerns is quite inspiring and can be widely seen on their last two albums and his own solo album. They are filled with amazing musical treasures, that might not come easy or be for everyone, but if you need a time-out, they will always serve you as welcome oasis in a distracting and hurried world.

Good night sweet prince: And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

(Audio Skies will be playing full album sides of Talk Talk’s albums in all their rooms, several times a day at the upcoming Axpona show, with special after-hour events to honor Mark Hollis)
—Feb 25th, Michael Vamos

seltaeb's picture

Sad news indeed, a true artist. FYI, the albums were reissued in 2012. All analog and including a hi-res DVD (audio) They are still available on Amazon and they sound great!

Michael Fremer's picture
Is news to me!
analogdw's picture

The Editorial Review of Spirit of Eden on Amazon says "Digitally remastered edition of this 1988 album...".

Joe Harley's picture

Absolutely agree on the brilliance of those last two albums!! Here's an interview I did with Jesse Carmichael of Maroon 5 about Talk, Talk and Mark Hollis a couple of years ago:

Ivan Lietaert's picture

Another great one gone... Such a shame (another one of his hit singles).
I grew up with this music...


Ivan Lietaert's picture

I just listened to Renee... and now I remember. When I was in my twenties, I 'd recorded this album on tape and played it front to back all the time in my car, while I was driving to the army barracks. This was at a time when young guys like me were still drafted for military service. I had a whole bunch of cassettes in my car to kill the time. David Bowie, Talk Talk, Prince... all gone now.

Elmhurst86's picture

The Colour Of Spring is one of the greatest Pop albums. So sad and only 64 years old. Life, like music, is precious. We all sweat the small stuff and before you know it, your ticket is up.

Wimbo's picture

My age. Colour of Spring is one of my favourite albums. I must chase down the last two.

hans altena's picture

Shocking news indeed, especially in the light of his determination to concentrate on his family. The albums of Talk Talk, with the last two as favourites, are played on my turntable a lot and the remasters sound terrific, although it is a pity the superbly pressed vinyl is housed in a printed cardboardpaper sleeve, which tends to cause minor damage the first time you get the record out of it. I always used to think that Scott Walker was influenced by Mark to start his experimental trilogy, and also that Bowie returned to his artistic self, but maybe that is beside the mark, still I regard him with the greatest musicians, an I wished he had recorded more. It makes me very sad even with spring being beautiful this week in Holland.

hans altena's picture

I meant to write that Bowie was influenced by Talk Talk too, namely to return to making good albums

dbowker3d's picture

I have the two latter albums (and Spirit of Eden on vinyl) and it's amazing both musically and sonically. I'd love to have higher end reissues though. When Spirit came out I happened to work part-time at a high-end audio store, and brought it in to play for my boss. He thought it was one of the best recordings he had heard in a long time, especially something labeled "rock." I recall playing it on a VPI TNT turntable with a Koetsu Rosewood cartridge, all Audio Research tubed electronics and through two of the larger Pro-Ac tower speakers we had... damn the dynamics on the album were incredible!

For the first few minutes he didn't "get it" though; he was expected something closer to the previous album "The Colour of Spring." That actually was a pretty good one too though something of an in between effort musically; excellent recording quality as well. Luckily, he was a big jazz fan too, and by the end of the first side he said "You know, I wasn't sure at first, but now I see where these guys are going! This is a great album!"

A few other customers that were jazz fans went out and got copies that day too.

DanaHolmes's picture

Good Friday evening to MF and the Gentleman that posted about the availability of Spirit of Eden." I ordered this LP two days ago on Amazon Prime and it arrived today Friday. I have no clue if it is as audiophile quality as the original but this 2012 Parlophone LP and a DVD audio copy of the LP is really impressive on my sub par system. (I have only listened to the LP thus far) I like it. It sounds like a film score to a certain degree. Side 1 is exceptional.

The Editorial Review of Spirit of Eden on Amazon says "Digitally remastered edition of this 1988 album...".

Thanks you guys - Dana