Talk Talk
Laughing Stock


5.0
classic

Review

by Tyler Fisher EMERITUS
June 27th, 2007 | 631 replies


Release Date: 1991 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Like I could summarize my feelings for this album in this little box.

It is astounding that Laughing Stock was one of the first albums widely considered “post rock” for many reasons. First, Talk Talk was a New Wave band, and a fairly successful one at that. By their final album, the band (or what was left of it) abandoned that staple and moved to a more experimental sound. Spirit of Eden, the album preceding this one, abandoned all pop sensibility and led directly into this remarkable, influential album. But how influential was it, really? From my point of view, no one takes any ideas from Talk Talk anymore. If we took Laughing Stock out of 1991 and put it in 2007, it would probably still have the same pioneering effect, because hardly anyone managed to follow their example with any sort of success and their influence is all too veiled today. Many bands cite them as key influence, but I hear no tremolo picking, delay pedals, or long, unwavering periods of ambience, the characteristics defining today’s post rock, on Laughing Stock. Instead, this album has a subtle jazz influence, filled with lush organ tones, brilliant, articulate guitar sounds, and sensible grooves. Yes, on Laughing Stock, the drums do more than build momentum for a build at the end of a song. Most noticeably different from other post rock, however, are the vocals. Mark Hollis sings with brilliance here, only appearing when needed and making the music interesting rather than repetitive.

Maybe no one followed suit because no one understood what was going on at the time. NME gave it a 4/10 when it came out; claiming the album to be “unutterably pretentious” and finished by bluntly stating “It’s horrible.” In fact, the reviewer spent more time describing the remix album Talk Talk’s previous label, EMI, put out rehashing the same old singles and bashing Mark Hollis for not riding on that success. While not all reviews were this negative, most only claimed it as good and took it to be more of a jazz album, considering it was released on Verve Records. Flash to the 21st century, and we find Pitchfork Media claiming it the eleventh best album of the 1990s gleaming with a five star review from All Music Guide. Nobody realized what this album meant until years later, when we went back and noticed that this album was not horrible. In fact, it was brilliant. The ones who didn’t understand? They’re the laughing stock now.

Remarkably, there were only two band members left at the recording of the album - Mark Hollis and Tim Friese-Greene, although ex-member Lee Harris returned as a session player on drums. While Hollis and Friese-Greene wrote all the music here, many session players appear in each song. Still, there is an undeniable chemistry in each song, as if they had been playing together for years. For proof, look no further than “Taphead”, a masterfully subtle piece of music. Beginning with simple guitar melody and Hollis’ wavering, unsure vocals, it leaves the listener wondering where the song will go next. Unexpectedly, keyboards fade in and then the darkest, warmest trumpet sounds, one after the other, building beautiful harmony, with tension and release techniques apparent throughout the feature. With this, Talk Talk creates a climax unlike any heard before or after. Following a more frenetic trumpet feature, light drums, bass, and piano enter, setting the slightest groove to allow for a screaming trumpet note and Hollis’ vocals. Another climax that lasted less than a second. The control that the ensemble shows in “Taphead” is unparalleled.

However, songs like “Ascension Day” and “New Grass” work better to describe the overall sound of Laughing Stock, if there really is one. Both revolve around superb drum grooves and allow that to drive the song. With this style, the joy of listening is not to wait for the climax. The entire song is enjoyable. Instrumentally, “Ascension Day” sets itself up with warm keyboard and bass, while guitar with impeccable, brilliant sound remains the primary melodic instrument. Hollis sings about judgment day and its inevitable coming, saying farewell to us all. The highlight of the song comes at the end, when Hollis’ guitar gets more intense and the band follows him. Once again, a climax, but there was no need to slide up on the fretboard, turn on the delay pedal, and pick away. In fact, he plays the same notes he played the whole time. “New Grass” is more celebratory in its music and in its lyrics, dealing with finding Christianity. The splashy drum groove remains solid as a rock, hardly changing. Pianos, keyboards, and organs make a more noted appearance here than anywhere else, their tone helping the atmosphere of the song. In any light, each song on Laughing Stock is brilliant.

If post rock artists want to save their genre from dying out from repetition and lacking originality, they need to turn to their roots. Talk Talk provides an entirely different route for these bands to follow. They show that post rock does not have to be so moody, and an album does not have to be one style and atmosphere. Some songs are celebratory; some are lamenting. There is a song for every day, every feeling. Two days ago, I identified more with “After the Flood.” Yesterday it was “Ascension Day.” Today I find myself continuously returning to “Taphead.” The world needs to hear this album, even if you haven’t liked post rock before, because I guarantee that this is not the type of music you think of when you think post rock. Unfortunately, it should be.



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user ratings (667)
Chart.
4.4
superb
other reviews of this album
Winesburgohio (5)
THIS IS NOT A REVIEW...

FelixCulpa (5)
You better start laughing now....

Sam Feldman's Rating (5)
The only thing left to do is marvel. And marvel I shall....

biografiend (5)
...


Comments:Add a Comment 
blackmilk
June 27th 2007


584 Comments


Excellent.

711
June 27th 2007


1341 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Question: Is it possible to dislike this album?

IsItLuck?
Emeritus
June 27th 2007


4927 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

yeah if you don't like it. what kind of question is that. christ.

jrowa001
June 27th 2007


8750 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

ive been recommended this album a plenty but havent gotten a chance to get it. i will probably this weekend. good review

FlawedPerfection
Emeritus
June 27th 2007


2806 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Ask Zorg.

@ 711.This Message Edited On 06.27.07

ValiumMan
June 27th 2007


493 Comments


I only have Spirit Of Eden, which is absolutely beautiful. I think I oughtta check this out. Excellent review.

Also, I agree completely about the influence thing. Talk Talk are usually referred to as "highly influential", yet I couldn't name a single band that I would think of "directly influenced" by these guys, and most post rock sounds totally different from them. Maybe it was more of a "spiritual" than a musical influence, a bit like Trout Mask Replica.This Message Edited On 06.27.07

descendents1
June 27th 2007


702 Comments


A bit like Jesus.

MeowMeow
June 27th 2007


662 Comments


Excellent review. Wonderful album, as well.

slep
June 27th 2007


1604 Comments


I've been wondering if I should get this or not, and I think I will try to get it. Awesome review.

The Jungler
June 27th 2007


4827 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This album is good good good.
Same goes for the review.

Minus The Flair
Emeritus
June 27th 2007


862 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I was thinking of reviewing this but I wouldn't do it justice and you pretty much summed up my thoughts. Timeless album.This Message Edited On 06.27.07

Zorg
June 27th 2007


65 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

I can agree with one statement in this review: "...abandoned all pop sensibility"

Where are the songs? This album is full of pretentious moody noodling and turns out of be no more than an annoying meandering bore. It's not brilliant, it's not spiritual, and it's sure as hell not a masterpiece. It's a hollow waste of time. Not even good background music.

It's unfortunate that this album gets this kind of praise while nobody has even reviewed an actual perfect album like Fear and Whiskey by The Mekons. For shame.This Message Edited On 06.27.07

descendents1
June 27th 2007


702 Comments


I hate when perfect albums slip under the radar of the masses. Can't stand it.

br3ad_man
Emeritus
June 27th 2007


2125 Comments


This album is the best.

Zebra
Moderator
June 27th 2007


2647 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

[quote=Zorg]It's unfortunate that this album gets this kind of praise while nobody has even reviewed an actually perfect album like Fear and Whiskey by The Mekons. For shame.[/quote] Seeing as nobody has reviewed it yet you're the perfect candidate for the job.



FlawedPerfection
Emeritus
June 27th 2007


2806 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Where are the songs?


Do you have a pulse?

pretentious moody noodling


Moody? Listen to GY!BE and you'll get moody. And I never said this album was perfect, although it's damn close. I don't know if there ever will be a perfect album.

ValiumMan
June 28th 2007


493 Comments


^His username says it all.

This album is full of pretentious moody noodling and turns out of be no more than an annoying meandering bore.

You can say that about approximately 80% of all non-song-based albums. Or you could just accept the absence of well-defined "songs" and take the album as more than the sum of its parts, as a whole piece of music, instead of a collection of seperate short pieces.
I think both views have some truth in them, but it all boils down to what you expect from the music you listen to, obviously.This Message Edited On 06.28.07

LF96
June 28th 2007


97 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I'd say Bark Psychosis was very influenced by this album. Hex sounds somewhat similar, but apart from that, most post-rock bands don't sound like this indeed.
Too bad, cause it's a fantastic album. Just recently picked it up, cause of the greatness that was Spirit of Eden. This album is different, yet very similar to that album. I love it. It does take some listens to fully appreciate it though, but that's mostly the case with more experimental music for me.

perriwinkle
June 28th 2007


5 Comments


Zorg you are super lame

FlawedPerfection
Emeritus
June 28th 2007


2806 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I'd say Bark Psychosis was very influenced by this album. Hex sounds somewhat similar, but apart from that, most post-rock bands don't sound like this indeed.


Yeah that's the only album I could think of that sounds like this (hence why I recommended it). Jaga Jazzist do "Taphead"-esque stuff and Do Make Say Think is kind of similar.



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