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Michael Vamos, Music Lover: Talk Talk – 'Laughing Stock'

10-14-2016 | By Michael Vamos | Issue 88

Talk Talk

Many know Talk Talk's first three albums, which had hits like "It's My Life" and "Life's What You Make It." But Talk Talk made five albums, each one better than the last, and then quit at the top of their art. Surprisingly few know the band's last two albums:  The Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock. With these two last albums Talk Talk proved that less is indeed more.

After Talk Talk's third album, The Color of Spring, the band took years to make The Spirit of Eden, a huge departure from their earlier albums. Their music had evolved into a mix of jazz and rock, and Mark Hollis' gorgeous voice was now only part of the soundscape. On this album, Mark now used his voice as an instrument to blend with the other instruments. It was no longer a dominant force as in a conventional bands, where the instruments back the lead singer.

If you want easy listening pop with predictable rhythms and dime-a-dozen lyrics, don't read any further. Talk Talk's fifth album Laughing Stock doesn't come easy. And if you only intend to play Laughing Stock as background music streaming from your mp3, then do us all a favor, keep your pennies and don't insult the band's efforts. Laughing Stock is like a great woman; you need to really pay attention. The seemingly sparse and simple music has layer upon layer, which took me years to fully appreciate. The album only gets better and better after each listen, and with each passing year.

Laughing Stock is the band's greatest effort, and arguably their greatest album of all time, only slightly ahead of Talk Talk's previous album, The Spirit of Eden. This sublime album only has six tracks, which vary widely in tempo, energy, and style, yet somehow it remains a coherent whole and should be listened to in one sitting. I did not grasp or even really like this album when I first heard it, and put it aside, only listening occasionally, until I sat down and listened seriously.

Suddenly a veil lifted, and the sweet music and Mark's magical voice revealed its secrets. The music is filled with silences, harmonic distortion, and shifts in tempo and intensity. Sometimes Mark's voice is so low, so soft, you're unsure if it's an instrument or him, until suddenly his voice erupts with full force, making you wonder how any human voice can scream at the top of their lungs, and contain all the power and dynamics, yet sound harmonic and clear without any discord—astounding! His voice is like roaring waterfall, yet it always sounds pleasing no matter how hard he seems to press – like warm honey running down the soft skin of a gorgeous woman.

The lyrics are complex and often hard to hear. Clearly Mark and band weren't thinking "cash." They set out to create musical artistry regardless of financial gain and they succeeded—they did not make much money—and it is art! Laughing Stock's opening track "Myrrhman" is quiet and subdued, but give it time and its quiet intensity will overwhelm you. "After The Flood" has the coolest organ, which grinds and ebbs with Mark's vocal eruptions. These will envelop you in the most rhythmical pleasing percussion that goes on and on, until unfortunately it has to end after 9 minutes and 38 seconds. "New Grass," my current favorite, makes me believe in a better life, where beauty and art mean more than money, and hope springs eternal.

Buy this album today! Turn off your iPhone and sit down with your significant other—or send them away—and listen! You won't be sorry. Laughing Stock might turn out to be one of your most prized possessions. It's the one album I would bring to a deserted island if it had a working turntable.

Michael Vamos is the proprietor of Audio Skies, which distributes GamuT, Larsen, Pear Audio Blue, and ESP Speakers.