Talk Talk’s first album is slick, professional and lifeless, sounding as though it were programmed by British record company execs to be a synth-rock Foreigner. The London group earned some early comparisons to Duran Duran thanks to their double name, producer (Colin Thurston) and similarly superficial veneer. (The two young bands even toured England together in 1982.) But Talk Talk lacked Duran’s panache. Songs by singer/keyboard player Mark Hollis (younger brother of producer Ed Hollis) are full of melodramatic angst and amateurish lyrics; his epic delivery is suitable but not overly appealing. In a cross-genre footnote, the album’s best song (“Talk Talk,” co-written by the two Hollises) had previously been recorded by Mark’s 1977 mod-punk band, the Reaction, for Beggars Banquet’s Streets compilation. (The Talk Talk EP previews The Party’s Over with four selections from it.)
Things took a turn for the better on It’s My Life, although Talk Talk still hadn’t become an essential component of modern culture. While the title song wins the 1984 Roxy Music soundalike award, other synth-powered dance tracks like “Dum Dum Girl” reveal Hollis to be a truly mixed-up vocalist. Still, the band’s creative future looked promising.
Bad bet. Except for “Life’s What You Make It” and a gritty guitar solo on “I Don’t Believe in You,” the first side of The Colour of Spring is gruelingly slow and soporific; Side Two is sporadically more energetic, but the languid pacing still makes it an endurance challenge. Producer Tim Friese-Greene collaborated with Hollis on both material and keyboards.
Spirit of Eden continues the trio’s perverse slide towards silent inertia. The album’s six long tracks — which seem to begin and end at random — drift along at near-subliminal volume, with very little song structure and almost no audible signs of life. Tasteful understatement is one thing, but the delicate shadings — a choir, horns, reeds and Hollis’ ginger singing — in this musical cipher don’t even create any tangible atmosphere.
Given Talk Talk’s patchy career, a retrospective may not be the wisest move, but record companies will be record companies. Natural History combines four tracks from The Colour of Spring, three from It’s My Life, two each from The Party’s Over and Spirit of Eden, adding the non-LP 1983 single, “My Foolish Friend.” (That last song also appears on It’s My Mix, a six-track collection of remixed singles.) The Natural History CD adds live versions of “Life’s What You Make It” and “Tomorrow’s Started.” History Revisited is an album of remixes.