Update: Hollis’ death was confirmed by his longtime manager, Keith Aspden. Hollis died “after a short illness from which he never recovered.”
It hasn’t been officially confirmed yet, but by all accounts, former Talk Talk frontman Mark Hollis has died at the age of 64. And with his passing, the world has lost a truly singular artist.
In their early days, Talk Talk were frequently compared to Duran Duran (they even toured with them in 1981). Both bands played similarly breezy and catchy new wave/synth-pop. But even in those early days, there was a unique soulfulness and contrariness to Talk Talk’s music.
Following the success of 1986’s The Colour of Spring, though, Hollis and his bandmates decided to forgo the obvious road to fame and fortune. Instead, they used the freedom granted to them by The Colour of Spring’s commercial success to delve into jazz, classical, experimental, and ambient music as well as odd recording techniques and sessions (e.g., recording for months in the darkened and incense-filled rooms of an old castle, recording hours of improvisation only to use a few seconds).
The result were two albums — 1988’s Spirit of Eden and 1991’s Laughing Stock — that drove label executives crazy and failed to achieve the commercial success of previous efforts. However, they dramatically challenged what was possible within the context of pop music. Along with Bark Psychosis’ Hex, Talk Talk’s final albums laid the groundwork for what would become known as “post-rock,” and influenced countless musicians including Radiohead, Sigur Rós, Doves, Elbow, Shearwater, M83, and Hood.
Many of those artists have gone on Twitter to express their sadness and condolences.
Following Laughing Stock’s release, Talk Talk called it quits. Several years later, in 1998, Hollis would release one final album, a self-titled solo work that pushed the austere, immaculate sound of Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock even further. And then he basically quit the music business for good.
When asked by a Dutch interviewer if he’d be touring for his solo album, Hollis demurred, citing family as the reason: “There won’t be any gig, not even at home in the living room. This material isn’t suited to play live. And I choose for my family. [Maybe] others are capable of doing it, but I can’t go on tour and be a good dad at the same time.”
It’s easy to call out artists who sacrifice their artistic integrity and give in to crass commercialism to make a buck. Which is why, as nice as it would’ve been to hear more music from the man, it’s impossible to begrudge Hollis for his decision to retreat into silence. He created some of the most beautiful and sublime “pop” music ever recorded without compromising his integrity or artistic convictions. What more could we ask for? What more could we want?
I’ve embedded some of my favorite Talk Talk songs below.