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47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dense, rhythmic, and transcendent., 11 Sep 2005
This review is from: The Colour Of Spring (Audio CD)
The Colour of Spring is one of those great records of the 80's that most people seem to forget... too busy trying to reunite the members of Berlin or gearing up for a new release from Duran Duran, and so on. It sounds like nothing else, or at least, it sounds like nothing else in comparison to the majority of mid-eighties rock... with Mark Hollis creating a sublime fusion of ambient guitar-pop, rhythmic folk, free-form jazz and even elements of opera and reagee. The compositions are dense and multi-layered, creating a bed of noise that is both bulging and minimalist (if such a thing is possible), as the evocative textures created by Hollis, Paul Webb, Lee Harris and producer Tim Fries-Green - not to mention their army of session-players, child choirs and backing vocalists - act as a bed for those arcane, transcendent, life-altering lyrics.
This is a world away from their previous album, the multi-selling It's My Life, and it shows the kind of progression away from synthesised new-romanticism, to something more akin to their classic records Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock... a brief period when the band could really be described as the Radiohead of their day!! With this record, we find a transitional style - if it has to be compared to the modern-day spectacle, then it's this band's The Bends - with Hollis and Fries-Green creating some gorgeous melancholic melodies, with a sound that alternates between slow moody ambience and heavier other-worldly rock. Opening track Happiness is Easy finds Hollis singing his mumbled poems with the detached intensity of a recently broken man, as percussion, tinkling bells and a throbbing bass-line alternate between verse, bridge and chorus, in a way not too dissimilar to that later joy The Rainbow, from ...Eden, though with the aforementioned child choir coming in on the title line to make obvious what Hollis's lush vocal can only hint at.
It's a strange way to open the album, but so audacious in its studio engineering and its evocative structure that we are carried away in its intoxicating mood and languid pace... It leads us perfectly into next track, I Don't Believe in You, which is probably my favourite song on the entire album. It's sound is more traditional than track one, though the emotions conveyed by Hollis's words are nerve-shattering... a fact that has unsurprisingly led some fans (myself included) to view the Colour of Spring as a semi-song cycle dealing with the disintegration of a long-term love affair. It makes sense... even from reading the album track listing (with suggestive couplets like Life's What You Make It, Give It Up, Time its Time and the ones aforementioned) we get a sense of the despair that is woven in between the sublime lyrical textures that the band so effortlessly create.
The big single of the time was Life's What You Make It, which remains the band's biggest hit to date (or perhaps a close second to the earlier It's My Life - as murdered by No Doubt) and has a sound that fuses elements of pop, rock and jazz (with Steve Winwood's piano loop brining to mind some of the hypnotic musical arrangements on some of Miles Davis's best recordings, particularly In A Silent Way and Kind of Blue). The band performance here is fantastic, with Fries-Green allowing the group room to improvise and manoeuvre around the arrangements, without letting the whole thing fall into the trap of self-indulgence. When listening to something as spectacular as Life's What You Make It, or other tracks like April 5th and the excellent Living In Another World (the most rock-like song on the album) you start to see the kind of bold, intelligent musical progression that infinitely more successful bands like Coldplay and Oasis seems absolutely incapable of making. And, if you think the music on this record pushes the boundaries of popular rock music into the stratosphere, then you should progress onto their masterpiece album Spirit of Eden... a towering record that still sounds twenty-years ahead of it's time.
The final set of songs push the ambient-jazz influences further, with saxophones, harps, a collection of organs and a wide variety of different percussion based instruments all finding their way into the compositions between the core elements of bass, guitars, piano, drums and vocals. Hollis's vocal style of delivery here was already starting to make less sense than on the previous albums, with his voice really maturing into something much more evocative... as he uses his voice just like another instrument, stretching words until they reach a completely different note, utilising the silences in between words, and so on. Penultimate track, Chameleon Day, sounds like a precursor to the sound and style of Hollis' eventual self-titled solo-album from 1998, with the track employing a more minimal sound, drawing primarily on Hollis's tortured vocals and glacial piano chords.
Although it's dated somewhat in the nineteen years since it was first released, The Colour of Spring still holds up exceedingly well. Some of the instrumental flourishes do have a hint of the 80's about them, but, on the whole, the album is elevated through the potency of Hollis's song writing, the arrangements and production of Tim Fries-Green and the virtuoso musicianship of Hollis, Webb and Harris, and the assistance of people like Martin Ditcham, Robbie McIntosh, Steve Winwood, David Rhoads and Mark Feltham. Though it's less experimental (and, to be honest, less essential) than the two albums that would follow, The Colour of Spring is still an enjoyable and admirable piece of work and, could very well be the best place to start for those interested in discovering the music of Talk Talk.
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