100 Greatest Songs of the 80’s #26 Talk Talk – Life’s What You Make It

Released : 1986

The outpouring of grief which the death of former Talk Talk singer Mark Hollis in 2019 was, unlike some of those eulogies given by the rent-a-mourn crowd on social media, entirely genuine. Here was a man who’d begun his career in a band responsible for largely disposable synth pop (Although, even on their eponymous 1982 debut album, songs like Have You Heard The News hinted at the future’s more solemn tones) but ended it operating purely on his own terms and with a legacy reaching into countless subsequent works.

Hollis became perceived as a maverick simply because the industry’s machine was something completely anathema when juxtaposed with his creative instincts, a gut feel he came to rely on almost entirely; at the same time he dealt less and less personally with his bemused label bosses. Rarely, did such a dysfunctional relationship between performer and suit produce something as special as Talk Talk’s The Colour of Spring, released in 1986 and with a cast of players that included Stevie Windwood. Wilfully complex and introvert at a time when the notion of post-rock was little more than the vaguest of concepts, it’s intricacy unsurprisingly spawned concerns about the lack of an obvious single.

Similarly to the way in which XTC’s Andy Partridge was able to approach the process of writing for a purpose, the story goes that Life’s What You Make It saw Hollis and producer Tim Friese-Greene warming to their task gradually, building the song up from percussion roots inspired by Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill. But whilst Lee Harris’ rounding, dampened beats are it’s cornerstone, the rest is a masterclass in underplay, a finger-picked cascade of piano notes, words like non-secateur grafitti being read out, the chorus – “Everything’s alright” – teleported in from another world. With it Hollis was signalling his and the band’s long overdue departure from the pop world by delivering perfection of the type.

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