Classic Recordings: Talk Talk – Laughing Stock

Talk-Talk

Talk Talk – Laughing Stock

Polydor (CD)

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.

Tracklisting

Myrrhman

Ascension Day

After the Flood

Taphead

New Grass

Runeii

13 Comments

  • david weightman says:

    this is a great album but I’m not sure of the point of this post…is it going to be available as a 24/96 download? If you search you can find all sorts of downloads of dubious quality, some transcribed from vinyl…or am I missing something?

  • Susanna says:

    Dear David,
    We’re waiting on a link to buy from our reviewer which he forgot to include in the original copy.
    Kind regards,
    Susanna

  • Matt Crayton says:

    This is indeed some of the finest music ever recorded…sublime and timeless.

    …very excited at the prospect of this on 24bit – but mindful of getting my hopes up as the link hasn’t appeared yet!

  • Evert says:

    This is maybe not a post directly related to Talk Talk, but I don’t know how to address it differently. I have downloaded the LSO – Haitink – Brahms album. Musically it is beautiful, but it is by far not 24 bit. The sample rate is 48kHz, which is OK, but the bitrate remains below the 1000. Al other so called 24K bitrate recordings are well above or around the 2000, as they should be, but this one not. First I thought there was a mix up in the files, but the 16bit version has an even lower bitrate, which is the same as an “ordinary” CD recording.
    Can someone explain this? Or point me to a place where I can send this question to?

    Thanks.

  • John Cope says:

    This is one album that is crying out for the 24bit remaster treatment – where’s that link????

  • SusannaGrant says:

    Dear Evert
    When uncompressed, the FLAC 24 tracks should have a constant bitrate of 1536kbps when they are 24bit, 48kHz.
    When compressed, the FLAC codec effectively breaks the track into tiny chunks, and only uses the bitrate necessary to store the information in each chunk. The LSO recordings are mostly very quiet and don’t require a lot of bandwidth, therefore the average bitrate is lower than, say a fairly loud track which has been mastered/normalised at a loud level, or has lots of changing volume levels.

    Our FLAC-24 tracks tend to be 600 – 1200 kbps depending on how ‘hectic’ they are. If they are quite gentle and progressive, then about 650 sounds right. If they were well-mastered Drum’n'Bass, or hardcore, and quite loud, then a higher bitrate would be expected.

    If they are higher than 1536kbps one would suspect the codec has added stuff to the original master recording (24bit, 48kHz WAV).
    Regarding the 16-bit versions, this is should be comparable to a CD, you can see our lossless audio page for more information on our formats:
    http://www.bowers-wilkins.co.uk/display.aspx?infid=3550&terid=3557

    I hope this helps

    Kind regards
    Susanna

  • Evert says:

    Dear Susanna,

    This certainly helps. Thanks for explaining.

    Kind regards,

    Evert.

  • john cope says:

    Back to Laughing Stock….is this a cruel joke dangling the prospect of a 24 bit remaster??

  • SusannaGrant says:

    I’m really sorry John, there’s no link forthcoming.
    Unfortunately it is still only available on CD, our reviewer was mislead into thinking there was a high-quality 24-bit FLAC version available. I’m leaving the post up as it’s still such a great album and hopefully a digital version will be available in the near future.

    Best,
    Susanna

  • john cope says:

    Oh what a shame! I’m guessing he was listening to one of the 24 bit FLAC vinyl rips going about; I’ve been dsappointed by then all – surface noise for one is way too prominent.
    Anyway, can we somehow petition Polydor to give it a 24 bit remaster for the B&H SoS?

  • john cope says:

    Oh what a shame! I’m guessing he was listening to one of the 24 bit FLAC vinyl rips going about; I’ve been dsappointed by them all – surface noise for one is way too prominent.
    Anyway, can we somehow petition Polydor to give it a 24 bit remaster for the B&H SoS?

  • SusannaGrant says:

    I would love to and will investigate that idea further!
    Susanna

  • neil worroll says:

    I agree with the sentiments regarding the genius of this album.The album colour of spring and Spirit of Eden were released on SACD.Both very difficult to obtain today.If you can find a copy I strongly recommend the large purchase price being asked by some retailers such as Amason and Ebay sellers.

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