The Colour of Spring
Somewhere between their first two albums and their final two, Talk Talk underwent one of the most remarkable transformations in musical history. And this album, the third of their five, is the sound of it happening. The title is wonderfully appropriate: The Colour of Spring is the record of a genuine vernal rebirth.
Listen just to The Party's Over (1982) and It's My Life (1984), and you'd be forgiven for thinking of Talk Talk as another mildly pretentious early-80s synthpop band. Listen to Spirit of Eden (1988) and Laughing Stock (1991), however, and like the proverbial group of blind men touching various bits of an elephant, you'd come to a completely different conclusion. Here Talk Talk astonish with a kind of syncretic music that involves everything from jazz to classical to minimal to experimental rock, and sometimes just sounds like the mics were left on in a rainforest.
It's a collision of genres that ought to be bafflingly eclectic and lacking in cohesion, but that merges perfectly into something joyous and uplifting yet epic and mournful, utterly spine-tingling - and even, dare I say it, spiritual. Put it like this: it's just about the greatest music ever to listen to very loud, in the dark, on your own.
The Colour of Spring laid the foundations for this change, as collaborator Tim Friese-Greene became a member of the band and then co-songwriter and producer. The music on the album straddles the two Talk Talks, and never more so than in opening track Happiness is Easy - a kind of weak fore-echo of Spirit of Eden's opener The Rainbow - where perky drums and washes of 80s synth compete with the mournful piano riffs and swelling strings of their later work.
You can feel what they're heading towards and just drawing back from - largely because the album doesn't yet feature the dub-influenced production that gives their later music its strange, compelling, minimal intensity. They get closest to it on April 5th, where strings, organ and piano are nearly but not quite joined by the big oceans of silence that characterise the joltingly beautiful aesthetics of dynamics and restraint they were later to perfect. It could almost be an out-take from one of the two albums that follow, as could the brief, minimalist curio Chameleon Day, the album's second-last track and an indication of things to come with its lush texture, wide-open spaces, synth noodling and sudden and incongruous vocal detonations.
But the album is still fascinatingly in touch with its New Romantic roots, particularly on songs such as I Don't Believe in You, Living in Another World and Time It's Time, insights into how the two eras knit together: how washes of synth, pompous string stabs and strummy guitars morphed into wobbly Hammond, grainy-textured production and plaintive piano. And suddenly, Talk Talk's monumental musical journey doesn't seem quite so long or quite so surprising.
The album's best-known song, Life's What You Make It, remains a curiously mournful piece of mid-tempo pop, an unlikely candidate for the band's second-highest-selling single. But then Talk Talk always did have the power to surprise. Two years after The Colour of Spring, their metamorphosis was complete: from admittedly interesting synthpop wannabes to creators of music that sounds like perfect calm at the centre of a world where everything's happening at once. This album is the pupa inside which that change happens.
It is, in other words, the sound of something extraordinarily beautiful being born.