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Talk Talk are not a band that it is possible to pigeon-hole. They released five studio albums in their decade of existence, but in truth if you played someone the first (The Party's Over) and the last (the wildly experimental Laughing Stock) one after the other, you might have some difficulty in persuading them that they were both products of the same outfit. That would doubtless satisfy Mark Hollis, the intense and these days reclusive lead singer, who refused to roll over for his record label on multiple occasions.
The Colour of Spring is the third album in the band's discography, and for my money it is probably the best. It shows a confident Talk Talk who no longer worry about trying to emulate Duran Duran, yet the group are still willing to make catchy pop songs and not retreat into the almost wilful esoterica of their later years. It's only three-quarters of an hour in length, and there are a mere eight tracks - only two of which are under five minutes long - but it adds up to a satisfying and rounded whole. It was their most commercially successful album, reaching number eight, and it probably deserves to be.
I'll jump right in with my pick as to the best song on this record: it's "Living In Another World". It wasn't much of a hit, barely squeaking into the top 50, but that's no reflection on its musical quality. Although I am a great fan of harmonicas, and although this track contains an excellent harmonica sequence, that isn't really why I've chosen it as the stand-out song. Rather, my reasoning is that this is that it manages to be instantly accessible to the newcomer without compromising on interest and (in the best sense) novelty; the piano discord halfway through never ceases to startle, no matter how many times you've heard it.
The closest thing to a bona fide hit on the album is "Life's What You Make It", which made it into the top 20, something a Talk Talk single achieved on only three occasions. It's a shame that the main drum has had the treble boosted to ridiculous proportions, but it's still an amazingly catchy song; and although Mr Hollis, were he still in public life, might give a little flick of his remarkable hair (as seen in the video for this song!) and frown at me in a slightly moody way for saying so, it's nice to have a later Talk Talk song that isn't all introspective and withdrawn, but can be listened to as something approaching pure pop.
For completely different reasons, I would also pick out the penultimate track, "Chameleon Day". It's the shortest number on this disc, though it's very far from being a conventional three-minute pop song. From its unsettling intro onwards it points the way to the stranger world Talk Talk would inhabit in their final two albums, and perhaps that's why I've never really been able to get on with it. There's no doubt that it's a remarkable piece of work, with all but the forceful middle section being reminiscent of religious chant rather than song, and I continue to listen to it in the perhaps forlorn hope that one day a little light will go on in my head and I'll have some idea what it's actually about.
"Time It's Time", on the other hand, is the longest track of all, an eight-minute epic which alternates brooding, introspective verses (something Hollis's slightly fuzzy vocals suit very well) and a seemingly more upbeat chorus ("Time it's time for living") and building to a rousing climax. This is notable as one of surprisingly few serious uses of recorders in pop music, and it's an extremely effective one, especially as it resists the boringly overused conceit of having the recorders sound childish and out-of-tune and instead gives them a hypnotic feel of insistent jolliness that isn't quite matched by what we've heard in the rest of the song.
The other four songs on the album don't quite speak to me in the same way, but none of them is a failure. "Happiness Is Easy" is a sort of parable, though despite the children's chorus ("Little ships of Galilee") it's hardly a conventional one. "I Don't Believe In You" is gentle on the surface, but absolutely vicious in its message ("Any way you say it / The charade goes on"). "April 5th", which includes the album title in its lyrics, is similar to "Chameleon Day" in being more like Talk Talk's later, odder albums, and is probably the song I like least on the record. Finally, there's "Give It Up", which is also at least partly in the experimental camp but which retains a slightly softer, floatier feel which makes it a little bit less difficult to come to terms with.
The Colour of Spring is available from Amazon for £5.29 including p&p, and I think that's excellent value for what is probably the best album (as opposed to the one with the most musical integrity) released by a still widely underrated band. You can also listen to the tracks for nothing if you have Spotify. If you don't know anything about Talk Talk, or have only listened to their early, mainstream, output then give this a go. At the very worst you'll discover a couple of excellent pop songs - and you might even begin to realise just what a remarkable musical journey this was.
1. Happiness Is Easy
2. I Don't Believe In You
3. Life's What You Make It
4. April 5th
5. Living In Another World
6. Give It Up
7. Chameleon Day
8. Time It's Time
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Happiness Is Easy
2 I Don't Believe In You
3 Life's What You Make It
4 April 5th
5 Living In Another World
6 Give It Up
7 Chameleon Day
8 Time It's Time