Mark Hollis
Mark Hollis


5.0
classic

Review

by Benjamin Kuettel STAFF
February 27th, 2019 | 20 replies


Release Date: 1998 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The final artistic statement from the Talk Talk frontman follows his band’s legacy by deconstructing what made it work, and to that end succeeds in creating a new kind of magic.

The course of Talk Talk’s career was always one of transformation, but also of hesitation. Mark Hollis was a reluctant pop star, with the band ceasing to perform live after 1986 and charting a truly unmapped musical course in the process for the following five years. This commercial suicide made clear that the band would not last much longer, but simultaneously guaranteed an infinitely more impactful and meaningful legacy than that of a typical 80s pop band. This might not have been apparent in their early years, but hindsight can illuminate a clear path of where a watershed type band like The Beatles or Pink Floyd followed to what would become their defining artistic statement and legacy. The significance of Talk Talk is the unwavering artistic ambition and integrity that leads to greatness, and a frank dismissal of the music business and of what was expected from a popular group. To wholly embrace abstract textures, and practically forego musical structure altogether at times, is unheard of from any band that achieved the level of success that Talk Talk did early in their career. What this lead to was the logical culmination of that process, a singularly distinct work of art with an epic emotional impact, Laughing Stock. The only sensical afterthought of such endeavors was a graceful exit, and like that, the band split.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. The band members collaborated with other musicians and formed a side project, the underrated neo-psychedelic tribal group .O.Rang. Hollis mostly remained out of the picture until dropping his first and only eponymous solo album in 1998: a sonic deconstruction of what made Talk Talk special while being a unique artistic statement in its own right. In a nutshell, Hollis created what appears on the surface to be a mellow singer-songwriter record without pretense. In the spirit of subversion however, the primary songwriter for Talk Talk more deeply created a record that seeks to break down the sound of his main band into its purest element. The louder aspects of their sound in tracks like “Desire,” “Ascension Day,” and the deliciously noisy solo in “After the Flood” are nowhere to be found. Dynamics are evolved into the subtlest displays possible at times, but much of Mark Hollis is stripped down to just acoustic guitar or piano with his hushed singing voice. One of the most rewarding aspects of the album is how natural and assured it feels. There are virtually no electronics to be heard, with even the acoustics of the recording space integrated into the sound for an impressively atmospheric result.

Album opener “The Colour of Spring” introduces these qualities and distinguishes itself from any era of Talk Talk, with soaring vocals and piano that transitions from assurance to doubt, and back to assurance again. The lyrical themes continue to be primarily personal and spiritual in nature. They come across more grounded here however, to suit the intimate, pastoral nature of the arrangements. “Westward Bound” is a look to the horizon of possibilities, with the lyrics “Opaline through her hair, born on an April tide. Glowing in the wonder of our first child, there my promise is a spur, a rein,” seeming to explore the awe and realization of responsibility one can feel in the presence of family. The brighter tone of the acoustic guitar is a contrast to the more unpredictable and serious tracks surrounding it. The gentler nature of Mark Hollis illustrates more ease than the experimental final records of Talk Talk overall, while still conveying a range of moods as it goes along.

Even the most uptempo pieces like “The Gift” and “The Daily Planet” blissfully glide along more meditatively than the louder epics of the previous band. Their occasionally mischievous side is never conjured up in Mark Hollis, instead existing in a more minimalistic nature, yet still wholly engrossing and multi-dimensional throughout. The album’s centerpiece, “A Life (1895 - 1915)” unfolds beautifully and contrasts the change of patriotism to disillusionment felt during the stages of war with the various changes in mood a song can have. It begins with various woodwind melodies and what sounds like a sustained organ note. The piece introduces a mysterious piano line and soft vocals before breaking down into more woodwind melodies, then continues on to further musical realms and tempo changes. Despite the more peaceful sounds, Mark Hollis is nothing if not surprising and captivating.

The question of Mark Hollis living up to the genius of Talk Talk is irrelevant, as it embodies just as much spirit of adventure and liveliness while possessing an air of finality to it. There was no quieter that Hollis’ brand of music could get than this, nowhere else it could logically go. All manner of styles are traversed here, from folk, ambient, chamber pop, classical, jazz, the ambitious post-rock that Talk Talk invented, and an emotional resonance that comes from a place of wisdom and creativity few others possess. Mark Hollis is a fittingly gorgeous and contemplative record that remains a lesser known and appreciated coda to Hollis’ legacy, as well as a glimpse into the essence of what Talk Talk were all about. His philosophy of less is more, that the only notes that should be played are the ones that have a purpose, even if it’s just one, is embodied in Mark Hollis. The man lived what he believed, and left us one incredible legacy to appreciate and understand as a whole. It’s a mark of true genius and virtue to subvert expectations and reinvent the wheel in such a radical way that Hollis and the rest of Talk Talk did. They could have taken an easy route, but instead chose to share their magic and change the history of music as a result, even if at one time it must have felt like it would blow up in their faces. Hollis decided to bow out when he felt it was right, primarily to spend time with family and allow his art to speak for itself and inspire others from the process. If that isn’t a perfect music career and artist’s life lead, I don’t know what is.

RIP Mark Hollis (1955-2019)



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user ratings (174)
Chart.
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Comments:Add a Comment 
TalonsOfFire
Staff Reviewer
February 27th 2019


18243 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Quietest album ever made?

Digging: Our Oceans - Our Oceans

TwigTW
February 27th 2019


3707 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Indeed, I was just reading that his music is about the space between the notes as much as the notes, so true.

Digging: Beth Gibbons and The Polish National Radio Orchestra - Gorecki Symphony No. 3: Symphony of Sorrowful Song

NorthernSkylark
February 27th 2019


9261 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

should have said so much



makes it harder



the more you love

Digging: Wallows - Nothing Happens

solrage
February 27th 2019


58 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Beautiful review and a wonderful ode to an artist that will be greatly missed. Those last two TT albums and this one contain some of the most spiritually transcendent music I've ever heard in any genre. They should be appreciate for artistic masterpieces that they are.



Only minor quibble: "and forego musical structure altogether at times..." TT's music is very atypically structured, but not unstructured. Rather, it seems to have more in common with 20th century classical and jazz's approach to structure rather than pop, which is what can make it difficult to discern.

TalonsOfFire
Staff Reviewer
February 27th 2019


18243 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks, and I pretty much agree with your point about them being unstructured. But for example, the two songs Myrrhman and Taphead are so weird, abstract, and unpredictable even if they’re not completely unstructured. I wanted to get across the level of change this band had gone through, but just changed my phrasing a bit in the review so that I’m not claiming the band were totally without musical structure.

GhandhiLion
February 27th 2019


4168 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Awesome and needed review.

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solrage
February 27th 2019


58 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Yeah, I understand what you mean and wouldn't even bother changing it TBH.

TalonsOfFire
Staff Reviewer
February 27th 2019


18243 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I just added a “practically” in there to make it less definitive.

Pangea
February 27th 2019


2945 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Still need to hear this one, will make sure to do so soon. Great review

Digging: La Dispute - Panorama

TalonsOfFire
Staff Reviewer
February 27th 2019


18243 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks!



This and .O.rang are must-listens.

ChaoticVortex
February 27th 2019


765 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Fully deserved rating, review and memorial for a great artist. R.I.P. Mark.

dtrichard
February 27th 2019


31 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thank you for reviewing. Absolutely moving album and a wonderful end of career effort. This album has influenced me in so many ways; particularly showing me that spirituality can exist fully in music, as well as the philosophy that less can (and often is) more.



Mark's legacy and identity will live forever through this album. RIP.

TalonsOfFire
Staff Reviewer
February 28th 2019


18243 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks, and agreed. Even if Laughing Stock was a perfect farewell album, this is a very nice kind of epilogue.

GhandhiLion
February 28th 2019


4168 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Its another unique beauty for sure. The instrumentation is less the main spotlight as it was in Talk Talk (to be expected from a solo album, hardly a weakness).



A new venture for Talk Talks musical language into folk and chamber music ("A lifes" end even sounds like avant-prog!). This one ended up closer to Sylvian than Talk Talk ever was.



Hollis really was a musical genius who could of easily kept pushing his art in newfound directions long after this release.

TalonsOfFire
Staff Reviewer
February 28th 2019


18243 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Agreed, and I'd say this reminds me most of Brilliant Trees in terms of Sylvian's work.

theBoneyKing
February 28th 2019


16300 Comments


Listened to this for the first time this week in light of his passing, beautiful record.

Pangea
March 3rd 2019


2945 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

God this is amazing. One of the best first-listen experience i've had in a while. I can feel the 5/5 coming

Kroehny
March 6th 2019


35 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Fucking spectacular, thanks Mark

benkim
April 6th 2019


3404 Comments


Watershed is pretty much the best song I've heard in a long time

NorthernSkylark
April 6th 2019


9261 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Sorry Mark, forgot to take out the trash



no one can replace him ~



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