by Anthony Gin
Review of Talk Talk's 'Spirit of Eden' album
‘SPIRIT OF EDEN’
1. THE RAINBOW
5. I BELIEVE IN YOU
Can music change your life? Can music change anyone’s life? I’m not so sure. Not directly, anyway. It’s not like music can say, “Go for that job, support this policy, watch your cholesterol, have you ever thought of studying economics?” And if music does say as much, then it’s mostly pretty shit (U2, a lot of solo Lennon, USA for Africa).
So, did ‘Spirit of Eden’ change my life? I’m not so sure.
I turned 17 at the end of 1988. For a present from a forgotten Auntie or Uncle, either for my birthday or Christmas (they’re quite close), I got a Woolworth’s voucher. One of those lazy gifts you buy for a distant relative.
Now, before we all get rose-tinted about it, remember that Woolworth’s always had a poor selection of music. Back when it was vinyl, it had but a few rows of vinyl albums (and it never improved when CD’s took over). Most of these were shit albums too, but I went through them all anyway – and we’re only talking about a hundred at the very most – and apart from anything that I already had, ‘Spirit of Eden’ stood out for two reasons. 1: It had/has a great cover sleeve and 2: It only had six songs on it. At the time, I had a fascination for albums with long & few songs on them. Plus, I had a vague recollection that Talk Talk had had a good song on the charts a few years previously. (When I bought ‘Colour of Spring’ a year later I was immediately reminded: it was ‘Life’s what you make it’.)
So home you go, put the record on, not expecting much and…
Is there a better way to discover truly great music?
Nobody had told me, I hadn’t read a review, hadn’t heard a note, knew nothing of the record’s existence ‘til I bought it and…
I could have shook; I wanted to shout. Did anybody else know?
No, actually. Nobody else did.
Talk Talk were my band; ‘Spirit of Eden’ my album.
‘The Rainbow’ & ‘Desire’ were my initial favourites. I didn’t think as much of side 2 for a while, I remember that. But then I did. Then I grew to like everything about the album. Then I grew to love everything about the album: That it was cut & spliced from hours of music recorded, rejected and reconstructed, that it was made in a disused church, that nocturnal habits were duly mentioned, that EMI were not happy bunnies, etc. But Talk Talk had done their own thing; Talk Talk had done absolutely their own thing. Slow, loud, quiet. That drum sound with the snare taken off, acoustic bass, a loud guitar, distorted harmonica, incredible Hammond, interlinked on side 1, long silences on side 2, all natural, beautiful and beyond.
The vinyl became so worn & scratchy as to be unlistenable, so I bought it again on CD. I’d never bought something twice before. Then I went backwards and got ‘Colour of Spring’. It had its moments – and is, of course, a bit of a masterpiece in its own right. But it’s not the same. Could anything be the same?
So I started looking. Whenever the words Talk Talk got mentioned in a review, I sought it out. In this manner, I got ‘Bitches Brew.’ I was initially disappointed. I’m not now, but I was right to think that it isn’t much like ‘Spirit of Eden’. ‘In a Silent Way’ is a more accurate descendant (and a better Miles starter to boot). Maybe Mark Hollis would disagree. Maybe Henry Lowther wouldn’t.
And then I started looking into the lyrics, but I gave up, realising that interpretation is open to itself (and I prefer it all to be a little vague anyway).
After Miles, it was Can. You can see the Can influence. (Compare the beats of Can’s “One more night” (from ‘Ege Bamyasi’) to Talk Talk’s “Ascension Day.”) I’d never heard of Can ‘til then. Then there was John Martyn, Nick Drake, John Coltrane (Though I latterly discovered that Alice Coltrane’s albums – especially ‘Universal Consciousness’ - are closer and, for me, the more beautiful for it). Then there was Robert Wyatt, Augustus Pablo, Ornette Coleman, even My Bloody Valentine. All new to me through this… unclassifiable art.
In subsequent years I went through umpteen musical phases, I discovered a whole host of different genres, bands, etc. I hope to continue to do so, but perhaps not at the cost of actually having a life as has been the case so often so far. But ‘Spirit of Eden’ guided me towards a jazz, natural, open hearted manner that I still don’t think I’ve achieved. The art seems to suggest that life can be as good as the art itself. So far, it hasn’t been, and by quite a distance sometimes. But there’ve been some encouraging glimpses along the way, and it’s a vague aim that I’ve never quite managed to shake free from being my only true ambition. It’s an aim I intend to stake out, clarify and achieve.
When ‘Laughing Stock’ came out in September 1991 I bought it on the very first day of release, the only time in my life I’ve ever done that. Another masterpiece (these days I’d say its even better, possibly the most complete album ever made). And still nobody else knew.
‘Laughing Stock’ got a great review in Melody Maker, but then it barely got mentioned ever again. I never once heard a second of a track from Laughing Stock on the radio. Still haven’t. In fact, out of the two albums I’ve only ever heard ‘I Believe In You’ on the Mark Radcliffe/Stuart McConie show a year or two back, in connection with a brief-but-cool piece they did about Talk Talk & Mark Hollis. And after so much time and so many faces, I’ve still never actually met another living being who independently knows and loves these albums…
‘Spirit of Eden’ didn’t entice me to start a rebellion, to cut my hair, to dress up, to blow up the Houses of Parliaments, to study harder, to find religion, to go on a march, to commit wanton acts or to join a cult. ‘Spirit of Eden’ just encouraged me to look for different art, to find what was suitable for me. I have managed this, mostly, with music, but at the cost of not sorting out my personal life or career to any great extent at all. I realise that this has to be my next phase.
So did the album change my life? Probably not, no.
Did it enhance my life?
In more ways than I could ever possibly describe, yes. Yes yes yes.
And now the rest is up to me…