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I have and love Talk Talk's "Spirit of Eden" and "Laughing Stock", but this solo album from their former singer is much more difficult. It takes the ideals of those albums to an extreme. These songs are built from silence, with the quietest splashes of acoustic instruments accompanying Mark's fragile voice. The first two tracks could have fit pretty well into "Laughing Stock", with good melodic ideas to stop the bare atmospheres from disintegrating. Particularly haunting is the "good has bled to dust" refrain of "Watershed", and the following Miles Davis-like trumpet.
But by the latter half of the album I just don't get it. There seems to be little of the love that went into "Laughing Stock" and "Spirit of Eden". The fragile acoustic atmospheres don't hold up on their own, they just seem to ramble, with little musical interest to hold them together. Mark's singing style, somewhere between a mumble and a whisper, may be suited to his fractured, delicate poetry. But it becomes too aloof for comfort. It seems as if he just doesn't care whether we hear the words or not. I concede that I'm probably missing the point, but it's a turn-off to feel that a performer isn't making any attempt to engage the listener.
It goes without saying, but this is an album to listen to with zero disturbance from external noise. Maybe it's more suited to ambience than for direct listening, but either way the silences are as much a part of the music as the sound.
February 11, 2004