Natural History: The Very Best Of Talk Talk, by Talk Talk
When Talk Talk released the not particularly commercial Spirit of Eden in September 1988, their label EMI/Parlophone responded to it three ways. One, they sued Talk Talk for having made a deliberately impossible album to sell. Two, they dropped the band from their label. Three, they released this album, a best-of collection that eventually got to fourteen tracks taken from four studio albums and one live album that had yet to be released when it was released on cd. Many American fans will likely only be familiar with the group’s only Top 40 American Hit “It’s My Life,” but this album makes it very clear that there is a lot more than that as far as great material is concerned, and this is a solid best-of collection that can be easily enjoyed by new fans as well as old fans. Looking first at the group’s first four studio albums and then live material over the course of the 1980’s, this is a beautiful collection that looks at some singles and some deep cuts from a band that has been criminally overlooked by a great many people who think about the music of the 1980’s, because it was recorded by a band that definitely took an unusual path.
The songs included in this album are as follows. From debut album The Party’s Over comes Today and Talk Talk. After that comes a loose single in the excellent My Foolish Friend. From second album It’s My LIfe comes Such A Shame, Dum Dum Girl, and the title track. From my favorite studio album of the group comes Give It Up, Living In Another World, Life’s What You Make It, and Happiness Is Easy. From Spirit Of Eden comes I Believe In You and Desire. And then from London 1986 comes a live version of Life’s What You Make It and Tomorrow’s Started. The end result is a pleasant blend of songs provided in a chronological fashion that gives a fair idea of the scope of the work the band did and may encourage listeners to check out other material–of which I particularly recommend The Colour Of Spring and Spirit of Eden among the albums sampled here as they show the band’s mature vision in ambitious form, more accessible in The Colour Of Spring and then more daring and experimental in Spirit of Eden, but great in both.
Even though there is definitely a growth that one seeks over the course of Talk Talk’s career, at the same time there is a sense of melancholy and poignancy in the music and lyrics of the songs of the band that continues through their entire discography. Whether one reflects on the broken relationship portrayed in “Talk Talk” or the discussion of “My Foolish Friend” or the frustration with the group trying to seize control of their band and their lives increasingly as their career went on, there is a darkness to much of the band’s material. To be sure, in The Colour Of Spring this dark mood is undercut with songs like “Happiness Is Easy” and “Life’s What You Make It,” but even so it is optimism that is hard-won and honest about the difficulties of life. And later in the group’s career their music would become increasingly haunted. There are also some jazz influences that one hears throughout the band’s career as well, demonstrating that even if their overall sound palette changed and got much more spare and filled with meaningful silences, there was still a lot that could be found and appreciated in the group’s music as a whole, and this album shows that.