Somewhat renowned for the very late review I want to talk about an album from 1988. Why? Because I only heard it for the first time last Friday. Forgive me.
In the early eighties Talk Talk were, for me, a perfectly adequate synth-pop band. A slightly unusual vocal style gave them an edge over all the other Yamaha DX7 bands out there. The Party's Over, the debut album, has some fine singles on it but I didn't feel compelled to become a long-term fan or purchase any further works.
Recently Spirit of Eden has been cropping up on many music magazine lists of essential albums. I usually know the albums in such lists well and if I don't own them it is because, despite their essentialness, I don't like them. Spirit of Eden, I realised, I had never heard.
It is wonderful. Why is it essential?
Let's imagine that you are not a music lover and twice in your life someone has given you an album, 'Because you must have something to play at parties.' They have tried to please you but to keep it mainstream.
Your collection consists of Miles Davis' jazz classic Kind of Blue and Elbow's The Seldom Seen Kid. The former because that is what everyone owns if they think they ought to like at least something and the second because you accidentally watched the performance footage of One Day Like This at Glastonbury a year or two back and liked it. I believe this is a credible scenario.
You play the albums from time to time, wondering how music got from there to here, from 1959 - 2008. Although not enough to increase your collection.
Spirit of Eden fits in the gap. You can hear jazz chord progressions and shades of volume unusual in a 'rock' album that hark back to Davis. There are times of almost completely silence. But there is a strength of song-writing, a theme to the whole album and an up-to-dateness that, for 1988, was remarkable. Twenty years ahead of its time.
It would have been difficult to perform publicly. Rock venues are notorious for the volume of the audience. Rock audiences do not behave well in quiet passages. An Elbow gig I once saw suffered badly with this.
Spirit of Eden is haunting, beautiful, melodic, structured and its brief lyrical content has a poetic quality rarely heard in pop. Nothing lengthy but every word made to count:
'A gilded wreath on reason
The flower crushed conceives
A child of fragrance
so much clearer
My next twenty years will be much improved by its presence.