There are many remarkable aspects to the story of Talk Talk’s fifth and final album, Laughing Stock. It took a year to make, and most of what was put to tape ended up on the scrapheap. In London’s Wessex Studios, where it was recorded, windows were blacked out, clocks removed, and light sources limited to oil projectors and strobe lights. Around fifty musicians contributed to its making, but only eighteen ended up on the finished album. It was a commercial failure, critically reviled as much as it was praised, and was impossible to perform live. Then the band broke up, forcing fans to wait seven years before its central protagonist released any new music, something followed by almost complete silence. Laughing Stock is also shrouded in mystery: apart from limited comments made during brief bursts of promotional activity to promote their own even more limited work since, the three authors of the record – Mark Hollis (songwriter and founder), Tim Friese-Greene (producer and co-songwriter since their third album, The Colour Of Spring) and Lee Harris (drums, and the only other remaining member of the band’s original line up by the time of Laughing Stock) – have refused to discuss it for years. But the music remains, its reputation growing with each passing year since its release two decades ago: stark, bold, indefinable and the greatest testament to the band.
Wyndham Wallace's article on Laughing Stock for the Quietus is a terrific overview of Talk Talk's progression from synthpop hitmakers to unparalleled aesthetes. I only vaguely know the story of Talk Talk and the difficulties in making their last two albums, owing to the fact that I'm a fairly new fan of the albums. After putting off hearing Spirit of Eden for years and years and years (for no real reason), I finally made a point to hear it while I was doing research for my book on Slint's Spiderland, since Spirit gets namechecked along with Spiderland (and Bark Psychosis' Hex) as being a progenitor of post-rock. Though I have a lot of misgivings with that genre tag, and with these albums as being the best appropriate reference points, I still couldn't rightly write about Slint's legacy without hearing these other oft-referenced albums too. Thank god I did! Both Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock are brilliant, brilliant works of art.
As Wallace describes it, I see some parallels between Slint and Talk Talk's crippling level of perfectionism. Slint was only in the studio for Spiderland for four days, but they spent two years laboring over their songs. The songwriting processes between the two bands was worlds apart, but the effect of focusing intensely on a small number of songs seems to have had the same result: the end of the band, and ostensibly the end of some members' music careers entirely.
Anyway, it's a great article and a good introduction to Talk Talk's story if you're not familiar. Both Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock are begging for the reissue treatment, given so many bands referencing their sound of late. Tthe Antlers and Wild Beasts spring to mind first, though Radiohead would be nowhere without Laughing Stock. Listen to "After the Flood": you think Jonny Greenwood's guitar would sound the way it does if he hadn't heard Laughing Stock?