Talk Talk – Laughing Stock – Round 83 – Graham’s Choicej

Setting a new tardiness  record in DRC 71tOFUGVgOL._SL1205_write up’s is generally my responsibility and the above is my latest contribution. Asked by Tom to bring something we talked about in Round 82 was easy for me as I had originally planned this for the instrumental theme for Round 82. Before we get too deep in the detail of this not actually qualifying as “instrumental”, I was all ready in Round 82 to come up with reasons/excuses about how this album had been “instrumental” in my musical education and how “instrumentally” it contained some content which I value above any other album. I’m confident all those reasons would have easily put fellow members mind’s at rest over an apparent bending of the theme by me,  for really the very first time….

Anyway, it never made it to the CD player as in the search for an antidote to the “challenge” of Haxan Cloak, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was deployed as a bit of light and shade to  accompany curry takeaway.

Between Nick and I, we have now managed to complete a hat-trick of Talk Talk/Mark Hollis albums moving through from Spirit of Eden, Laughing Stock and his single solo offering. Three albums that shaped my tastes to the point that I didn’t need to explore this genre anymore. They are each complete and anything else I might try “because if you like this, you might like this etc..” just doesn’t work. I can go back to them all for memories and rekindle the impact, particularly the first two had on me. I regard them all, but particularly Laughing Stock, as unique and precious.

Others can, and have written more eloquently than I about the spontaneity and experimentation with recording techniques and improvisation that Hollis used to produce exquisite moments of melody, rhythm and drama on this album, but nearly 25 year’s later it still has the moments when everything else has to stop around you while you anticipate what is coming. The beginning and the end of the guitar part on Ascension Day being the best, of many examples.

Rob listened: Is that it with the Talk Talk now?

I quite like Talk Talk, but then I quite like a lot of bands. Some of the sounds this band makes seem remarkable. However, as we’ve established over a number of rounds now, I don’t love Talk Talk, in fact I find them a little disappointing because each time I approach them I want to finally fall hard for them and I never do. I am always enchanted by the love my fellow Record Clubbers feel for them however, no matter how much I enjoy acting the anti-Hollis curmudgeon. If I were to pick any of their records, this would probably be the one. Who knows, maybe one day, maybe after another 15 appearances at DRC, it will be the one.

Nick listened: I rarely listen to Talk Talk these days, for various reasons: I’ve internalised the sounds and emotions of their records so much that I don’t ‘need’ to very often; there’s lots of other music that is great to listen to instead; my wife doesn’t like them that much; and, most pertinently I think, the last two albums in particular aren’t very easy things to listen to. I have to be in the right mood. I don’t feel like they’re records I can just throw on and have playing away in the background. Does that make them more precious somehow than records I can have playing merrily away and pay little attention to? It’s hard to say.

Laughing Stock is more awkward than Spirit of Eden, more emotionally and sonically extreme. It strikes me as being profound in a way that very few – perhaps no – other records are. The opening moments of “New Grass” – those skipping drums, that dappled guitar breaking through the murky emotional clouds left by “Taphead” – are still amongst the most beautiful I’ve ever heard.

Which is all to say that Rob’s a disgusting savage with regards this band, basically.

Tom listened: Having discovered Spirit of Eden a couple of years before and having fallen head over heels in love with it during the intervening time, I can still recall the sense of  heightened anticipation I experienced as I placed the needle on the play in groove on my brand new copy of Laughing Stock. I could only have been disappointed! And I was…only a little, admittedly, as Laughing Stock is a fine, fine record, but nevertheless, something about it seemed more mannered; a tad overthought, less organic and therefore less natural sounding than its predecessor. I put the time in, expecting it to click, but I have never quite lost that sense of bewilderment and discombobulation when listening to Laughing Stock – whereas Spirit of Eden always left me wanting more, Laughing Stock seemed to be taunting me, challenging me to try to work it out whilst knowingly winking to its older sibling that it had set me an impossible task.

I guess what I am trying to say is that whilst I admire and respect Laughing Stock, I will always find it hard to love it in the way I do Spirit of Eden.


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