Talk Talk: Spirit of Eden (1988)

I suppose this falls into that bucket of weird, experimental stuff that rock critics love to talk about but most ordinary listeners find somewhat puzzling.  And I'll admit I held off for a long time before trying it out; and it was one of those albums that on first (and second, maybe third) listen I just couldn't get into.  And then there's that time you put it on and all the pieces click into place, and it's hard not to be just floored.  Or at least that's me.

Talk Talk had made their name with a few perfectly decent new wave singles, songs like "Talk Talk" and "It's My Life," and some solid synth-driven pop-art albums, before Mark Hollis decided to leave the pop behind on 1988's Spirit of Eden and, even more so, the band's final album, 1991's Laughing Stock.  I find the two pretty comparable, each sporting 6 extended tracks, taking a few hints of the band's earlier lush, new wave synth pop, and stretching it out with jazz, prog, Tim Buckley-styled art-damaged folk-torch songs, and a general sense of slow, moody experimentalism.  I don't have a preference between the two; you can pretty much play them back to back and assume it was intended as a double album, albeit recorded three years apart.

Spirit starts off slow and hushed, the first few minutes of "The Rainbow" almost an Eno-esque ambient piece; but then the tribal percussion, weird pianos, stabs of distortion, and disembodied vocals kick in, ending with one of the most mind-blowing pieces of headphone-friendly psychedelic weirdness this side of early Floyd.  The next song, "Eden," charts a similar path, quiet and atmospheric and building, with a cathartic center before it drops back off again. And then "Desire" takes this to the limit, another quiet start before heading into a percussive jam that's like post-punk Krautrock, a blast of controlled fury.  The second half is a little less jarring, mostly downbeat and somber; "Inheritance" has an unfurled bit of energy in the center as well, but it drops off quite a bit in the end, somewhere between Pink Floyd and Soft Machine, jazzy and spacey.

It's definitely an album that, like its successor, needs room to breathe; it doesn't reach out and grab you, really needing a few hours in a dark room with a glass of wine and some headphones.  But when the hooks dig in, it can be pretty emotional. 

Here's a video of an edited version of "I Believe In You":
...and something someone threw together for "The Rainbow":