Should the sanctity of an album be a precious commodity, then The Colour of Spring stands testament to theme and ideal… or so I scribbled down in my notebook, on the Subway, the carriage all sneeze and sniffles, the route home waylaid by all the usual urban detritus…
And we could label Talk Talk’s third album of five a line in the sand. A midpoint. An aperture of reference. Certainly the acknowledgement that we’ve hit half way (if we ignore the subsequent solo album from Mark Hollis, or Tim Friese-Greene’s later work); a journey that commenced under clear blue skies and the radiant banner of pop climaxed in an altogether different landscape, forgoing notions of commerciality for the contours of introspection.
The lush minimalism of abstract jazz may not be a common musical destination for those schooled in pop. A setting for a daytrip, maybe – David Sylvian probably runs Bank Holiday charabanc tours in the vicinity – but as end game, not too many artists allow themselves to be subsumed into aesthetic (to the point of silence) quite as willingly.
It’s also one of the elements that makes The Colour of Spring such the enticing listen. The middle ground between the wry, arty synth-pop of 1982’s The Party’s Over and Laughing Stock, 1991’s meditation upon texture and double bass. A big album, the musicality ambitious and instinctive, but also expressive, intimate, a cloudy day listen, cold shards of rain at the window pane (for what is the vernal season if not tender?).
Another indication of record as cohesive unit is equilibrium; not always easy to pull off when there’s a big, arresting single lying in wait. ‘Life’s What You Make It’ – bold, dramatic, built upon a piano motif that takes permanent residence in perception. The percussion is brutal, Hollis’ vocal edged with mania, the lead guitar daubing slabs of colour across the melody in bruising concatenation. It’s song as multi-faceted statement, prowling with nuance and wrapped in interpretation (for example, Fatih Akin uses the piano hook as a recurring theme in Gegan die Wand – or Head-On, to give the film it’s English title – and whilst a subtle borrow it never feels gratuitous, the movie’s haunting, powerful moments underpinned by four notes on the keyboard).
Yet whilst such a track could, in less cultured hands, have resulted in skewed balance or an album overwhelmed, The Colour of Spring neatly sidesteps such charges by virtue of flow and context, the depth behind the other seven tracks riding on ripe sentiment, each detail something to ponder. And unlike the two later albums, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock, which (I’d argue) only come into their own on high-end equipment, that detail, whilst not exactly immediate, doesn’t require an audiophile’s budget to appreciate.
It’s in the way the percussion leads opening track ‘Happiness Is Easy’; a thirty-second entrance point that hangs, leaving the listener uncertain as to mood and direction (and in that respect, it’s as if the guitar, piano and synth – layered – act as an early coup de grâce). It’s the method through which ‘Living In Another World’ trails a haunting subterfuge within its powerful (and deceptively complex) rhythms. And each vocal is framed with delicate placing, Hollis’ timbre poetically remote. “Here she comes, silent in her sound,” he sings on the stark beauty of ‘April 5th’. “Here she comes, fresh upon the ground. Come gentle spring, come at winter’s end, gone is the pallor from a promise that’s nature’s gift”.
In other words, what strikes this particular listener – on each occasion the vinyl is (regularly) spun – is how the album’s intelligence is delivered with focused elegance; to play is to feel empowerment through texture, rather than saturation via sound. ‘I Don’t Believe In You’ has its desperation filtered, the atonal guitar solo and horns in the latter verse unexpected nuggets of punctuation. The pared-back ‘Chameleon Day’, musicality and lyrics alike strictly rationed, arrives like sonic experiment, the sudden urgency with which Hollis appeals to his muse (“Breathe on me, eclipse my mind, it’s in some kind of disarray”) an embodiment of contrast.
I like The Colour of Spring. A great deal. It doesn’t treat the listener like a fool, unable to process anything except the most simple of data, just as it doesn’t lose sight of its accessibility. And whilst ‘Life’s What You Make It’ is by far its best-known track, I’d suggest that closing number ‘Time It’s Time’ sums up the attraction. Dense, alluring, and at times intoxicating, from the opening discordant piano chord onward this is all to do with touch. The bass track providing the heavy lifting for the enigmatic vox, the constantly evolving mix of percussion, accordion, guitar motifs buried deep in the mix. A track that flits between major and minor, between introspection, passion and aggression with ease.
And then there’s the utter enticement of the final 2+ minutes – tribal in construction, a simple repeated phrase played on children’s recorders that reverberates with an eerie composure (plus should you listen closely, it’s at this point where the bass track flares its nostrils, as if something equine).
We’re not allowed any more Talk Talk records. Producer / songwriter Friese-Greene (never a formal member of the band, which existed at various points as three-piece and duo) has been sidetracked by tinnitus, Mark Hollis long disinclined to make music for public consumption. And I’d suggest this isn’t necessarily a bad thing should late period Talk Talk fail to float your flotilla; instead, The Colour of Spring, whilst functioning as mid-point, also works on its own terms – absolutely. Indeed, I’d go as far as to say that if you don’t own this record, you’ve lost a little slice of respect.