Album of the Week, October 20: It’s My Life by Talk Talk

Talk-Talk-It´s-My-LifeMark Hollis is the younger brother of London DJ, producer, and manager Ed Hollis. He intended to pursue a career in psychology, but left it behind to try his hand in the music business. Ed called in some favors and Mark’s band, the Reaction, recorded a demo. That band disintegrated, but in the meantime Mark met the other men who formed Talk Talk. They released a fairly derivative synth-pop album, The Party’s Over, which featured the powerful song Talk Talk and was otherwise mostly filler. Hollis’ haunting vocals were distinctive, but the band didn’t fit the new romantic mode they were squeezed into and the tension showed.

Hollis then met keyboard player Tim Friese-Greene. The two hit it off musically and reinvented Talk Talk, changing the lineup and crafting a sound better suited to their musical vision. The result was It’s My Life, an album that moved light years past its predecessor.

Title It’s My Life
Act Talk Talk
Label EMI Release Date  February 1984
Producer Tim Friese-Greene
U.S. Chart  #42 U.K. Chart  #35
[U.S. Hot 100]
  1. Dum Dum Girl
  2. Such A Shame [#89]
  3. Renée
  4. It’s My Life [#31]
  5. Tomorrow Started
  6. The Last Time
  7. Call In the Night Boy
  8. Does Caroline Know?
  9. It’s You

While synthesizers still dominate, Hollis and Friese-Greene blend in piano, guitar, drums, and trumpet to great effect. The result is a perfect example of what synth-driven pop should be and a cohesive,engaging album of literate, challenging songs. Mixing strong pop structures, lush atmospherics reminiscent of the best of Roxy Music, and hints of world music influences, they concocted something unique and wonderful.

Things open up with Dum Dum Girl. Hollis’ lyrics are elliptical but compelling throughout the album, and this is a perfect starting point. The singer is walking away from a gold-digging lover who abandoned him for someone more promising. He celebrates his integrity while nursing the hurt. Hollis starts with a whispered repetition of the title, his vocals surging as he reaches the determined repudiation in the chorus. It’s a strong start.

Such A Shame has a long instrumental opening with exotic background sounds and swirling, processed synths. A song of regret but not resignation, Hollis sings it with power. The long fadeout mixes the title line with drum riffs, underscoring the singer walking away from the sad situation. It’s a standout track. Renée is a plaintive tale, beautifully sung, with rich keyboard work. It hearkens back to the first album but shows how those songs should have sounded.

The title track was the band’s one big hit (later covered badly but profitably by No Doubt). A potent statement of personal freedom in an age of conformity, it serves as a strong centerpiece for the album. The eerie, birdlike synth riffs and live percussion created a sound that helped set Talk Talk apart from the rest of the new wave radio fare of the day. Tomorrow Started is another quiet, moving manifesto about finding one’s own way and facing a new day. With its loose, jazzy feel, it presages where the band were headed on future recordings.

The Last Time is a strong farewell song, a kiss-off that is wry without being bitter. When Hollis intones “let the show begin — for the last time” he strikes a powerful, emotive chord. Call In the Night Boy is a great showcase for the band’s music. Although written by the original lineup, it sounds little like the first album. With stunning guitar work and Hollis’ clarion vocals, it’s a dark tale of need. A startling piano break takes over the bridge, showing the complexity of the album’s musical approach and helping this track shine even in such strong company.

Does Caroline Know? is another song of quiet determination. Sublime and haunting, it ponders responsibility as Hollis considers his obligations to himself and others. It features a lovely synth-and-drum bit that is almost tropical in feel, lending a wonderful air of mystery. The album wraps up with It’s You, the strongest statement of reliance on another person. It maintains the album’s themes of determination and independence but makes room for a partner. Hollis is in fine voice as he brings this amazing show to a close. The mixture of electronic instruments, natural musical settings, heartfelt vocals, and brilliant production bring together a wonderful set of songs and a lovely, distinctive sound.

FURTHER LISTENING: Talk Talk continued to evolve, with Hollis and Friese-Greene becoming the only real members of the band. The rest of their albums are lovely to listen to, but veer away from traditional song structures — imagine Brian Eno’s ambient work fronted by an Astral Weeks era Van Morrison. The music is ambitious and original, but not really my cup of tea. The compilation Natural History is a great sampler of the band’s first four albums, collecting the most origial work on the debut and the most song-oriented tracks from the later albums.


About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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