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In Memoriam:  The Passing of Mark Hollis

02-26-2019 | By Michael Vamos | Issue 102

It's a day of mourning for music lovers everywhere—Mark Hollis, the 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.

This is my own personal emotional homage, done within hours of hearing about his passing, and sent to the great beyond—thoughts that I hope reach Mark. Endless facts and stats about his life and career can be sought out elsewhere.

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 80s, 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 1987 and 1988 recording the radically different album, Spirit of Eden

They did not tour Spirit of Eden, there are no pictures on the album, 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 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—and 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. It was a kind of raw force wrapped in warm flowing honey.

In a seldom seen 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. It can be widely seen on Talk Talk's last two albums and his own solo album. They are filled with amazing musical treasures, ones that might not come easy or be for everyone, but if you need a time-out, they will always serve you as a welcome oasis in a distracting and hurried world. 

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

As a remembrance, 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 2019 show. There will also be special after-hour events to honor Mark Hollis. All who are in attendance and are interested in Talk Talk and Mark Hollis are welcome to visit our rooms.

Michael Vamos is President of Audio Skies, and writes occasional music reviews for Positive Feedback.