Talk Talk – Laughing Stock
By Paul Rigby
All in all, Talk Talk were a strange group. Strange because they were often seen as a pop outfit, by the general public, as judged by their hit singles such as Life Is What You Make Of It and It’s My Life. Strange because their albums evolved at a tremendous rate, far faster than many of their contemporaries. Strange because, with each album, they actually improved. Most groups tend to shoot their bolt with the first and/or first and second albums (stand up Oasis), not Talk Talk. In fact, Talk Talk emulated The Beatles – where Oasis only pretended to – by maturing in their songwriting skills over the years, rejecting the pop structure, embracing other genres and incorporating them into their own idiom, taking a more individualistic approach to their career, attempting to become independent, removing themselves from the live stage and developing more complex and intricate musical forms and structures. And, like The Beatles, once they hit perfection, they dropped from stardom and the industry like Icarus after touching the sun.
Laughing Stock was that pinnacle, recorded just as they were touching the sun. It was released at the moment the band imploded. Laughing Stock followed three years after the release of Spirit Of Eden, itself a dramatically beautiful piece of work that was universally acclaimed, at the time, but didn’t sell a bean and lead to a major fall-out with their record label of that time, EMI, followed by legal recriminations and, then, a change of label to Polydor.
This chaotic atmosphere is essential to ingest when considering Laughing Stock, mainly because it is amazing, under those circumstances, that it exists at all. For some reason the album not only maintained the progress seen by Spirit of Eden but actually managed to exceed it. Released in 1991, Laughing Stock resembled the final stages of an exploding star as it scooped up new arrangements, in its wake, such as a full classical orchestral backing and an array of guest musicians. The music could no longer be contained within the group, it seemed – literally, in fact, as the group would finally break up the year after.
The album itself is actually difficult to pigeon-hole, despite the sometimes ‘post-rock’ labelling of more recent years. There’s rock, yes, but also jazz. There are classical structures with melancholic vocals from front man, Mark Hollis, but there’s also soothing, ambient electronica. The songs move from the sweet and gentle to the grand and epic. Laughing Stock is a multifaceted work of supreme complexity, the like of which the music industry hates and music fans adore. A work of genius? Oh, yes.
Stand-out track: Taphead
Often, unassuming art can be the most effective. Taphead never screams for attention, it waits for you to discover it. There’s plenty of space for the organic electric guitar and vocal to circulate your listening room. This is where an effective record cleaning machine as well as turntables and amps that translate the inky blackness of silence will come into their own.
Stand-out track: New Grass
Some excellent early cymbal arrangements will test the treble unit on your speakers from the first seconds. Offering subtle textures and an uplifting vibe, this carefully crafted song is musically complex so will demand good sound separation characteristics from your speakers.
After the Flood