R.I.P., Mark Hollis of Talk Talk
Fans of sophisticated, atmospheric pop music are in mourning today after the unfortunate confirmation of a rumor that had been swirling around the internet for much of yesterday: Mark Hollis, the 64-year-old London-born musician best known as co-founder, lead singer, and primary songwriter of the band Talk Talk, has – per his former manager, Keith Aspden – “died after a short illness from which he never recovered.”
Over the course of his music career, which effectively ended after the release of his self-titled solo album in 1998 (Talk Talk had closed up shop after 1991’s LAUGHING STOCK), Hollis became a template for how a musician and songwriter can start out delivering the sort of songs that lead to chart-climbing singles, only to follow their muse into mind-expanding musical territory that causes rock critics to write rapturous reviews while leaving the average listener staring blankly at the LP they’ve just purchased while wondering just what in the hell they’re listening to.
It’s easy to determine the dividing line between those two points: the more mainstream material can be found on THE PARTY’S OVER (1982) and IT’S MY LIFE (1984); the transitional album was THE COLOUR OF SPRING (1986); and the decidedly artsier era arrives with 1988’s SPIRIT OF EDEN and continues into 1991’a LAUGHING STOCK, a.k.a. the band’s final effort.
Yes, it’s true that Hollis opted to take an artistic path that led him away from platinum sales and transformed him from pop star to cult hero, but the music left behind from Talk Talk’s earlier LPs – particularly singles like “Talk Talk,” “It’s My Life,” “Such a Shame,” and “Life’s What You Make It” – continue to find airplay in the US, the UK, not to mention elsewhere around the world. Hollis also did something that precious few artists do: he walked away from the music, leaving his career behind in favor of focusing on his family. To be fair, the kind of royalties he pulled in from No Doubt’s cover of “It’s My Life” probably fed the Hollis family pretty darned well, but consider how much easier it would’ve been for him to either keep writing and recording or – God help him – hit the ‘80s revival circuit.
Hollis has left us far sooner than any of us would have liked, but given his history, there’s every reason to think that even another half-century on the planet would still not have resulted in us being graced with any new music from him. It’s mild comfort, then, to know that we very likely got all of the music Hollis was ever going to make for us, and it’s a godsend to recall that it’s some of the most wonderful music we’re likely ever to hear.