Monday, April 20, 2009

Talk Talk

"Spirit of Eden" by Talk Talk is one of my favorite albums of all time. I will go on the record as saying that. When I first hear the album, from the opening moments of that very serious tuning or ambiance of the strings in the background to the mournful trumpet notes tempered with distorted guitar, I knew that this was either going to be a pretension fest that I was misled to by my trust in another music review, or the best album that I had ever listened to. Well it was close (2nd best after Bob Dylan's "Self Portrait" {easily the best concept album of all time}) Once that guitar comes in on "The Rainbow" to set the scene, mixing with the haunting harmonica (spooky!) you are immediately drawn in. I have always likened this album to Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks." Both albums deserve the accolade "organic." Because there have been perhaps only three truly organic albums (to my knowledge) in rock history: Astral Weeks, Spirit of Eden, and Laughing Stock (also by Talk Talk). "Organic" being a conception of an album born out of the idea that the musicians and lyricist would not coordinate before recording. Astral weeks was made when Van hired the best chamber musicians possible to play tracks that he would sing along to. There was minimal to no discussion of mood. On "Spirit of Eden" the tracks were not discussed or written out. Talk Talk played these songs as they went along - lighting a candle for ambience. The singer (I don't know his name as I write this so I refuse to look it up) made up lyrics as the songs went along. His voice, in the classic Jagger school, becomes another instrument, bubbling up and along with the instrumental tracks - becoming as passionate as their outbursts are and then subsiding just as quickly. This may be perhaps the best recorded rock vocal of all time.

The flowing nature of the music on this album had me thinking that the first three songs "The Rainbow," "Eden," and "Desire" were all just one song for the longest time. However, when the strange guitar and trumpet moans of "The Rainbow" fade and give way to the piano and strumming acoustic guitar of "Eden" build and then break into a laid back drum beat you sooner or later figure out that this is a different song. Here Talk Talk basically trump all of U2's 80's output. As the keyboards and guitar chime together and rise up while the singer sings "Everybody needs someone to live by" you being to think why there were ever any other bands or lyrics or sex in the world. These outbursts subside into a persistant groove that is only broken by sharp blasts of distorted guitar that then give way to the most clear out of tune acoustic guitar strokes, which then raise into another outburst. Music and instruments have never sounded as good as they do on this album.

"Eden's" guitar chime slowly fades out to quiet. The piano builds again only to die out and give way to strings from a keyboard, then just keyboard and distortion. Then the heavy synthesized organ comes in and "Desire" starts. This isn't any U2 cop out. This is "Talk Talk" and they use the power and refrain of the church organ to drive this song home. When the singer finally starts in with the lyrics you are hypnotized: "Desire, whispered, spoken." The keyboard and organ slowly build into a guitar freak out that is simply one of the best codas I have ever heard and if you do not want to rip yourself apart after you have heard it, then you must have less than half of a heart or the passion of someone who keeps the first job they are given. "Desire" is the type of song that, when you are walking along the street and see a tree in first bloom and realize that the universe and nature are eternal and you are merely a part of that eternity in a very mortal sense and temporary, ties into that deep feeling in your gut - that the world, your friends, your love is impossible and you are merely tied into its whims. "Desire" in reality and in song never gives up.

"Desire" fades and we get a reprieve of rain from the cymbals in "Inheritance." The singer's moan fits the slight jazz snare sweeps and the late night piano until we it what I guess is a chorus that springs out of stand up bass plucks and soars into synthesizer sounds that are too good to have lived past 1990 in order to be destroyed by bands who didn't know how to use them. This gives way to an interlude of clarinet and oboe that hadn't been seen since 1967. How ahead of the time and yet so retro! And once more for good measure we get the sweep of synthesizers. Talk Talk had really understood their peers at this point, had mastered the mastery of their initial angular image and the image of the 80's that was being sold in sight and sound and manipulated it into a completely new sound and art form - something that has become timeless. This is ultimately music of the 80's but set apart from it simultaneously, which is what any artist does and should do with his own generation.

"I Belive In You" is the fifth song. A slow burner that rises to a boil like all of the songs on this album. The singer starts in really haunted on this one though. This is a song that feels like a constant pivotal moment. Here is the singer's finest moment, he hits the emotive levels of "It's My Life" when the weird ghost guitar and organ songs come in. This song is a day in the mist. It makes you feel as though you are ready to explode, especially when the singer moans "Spirits" and the organ, keyboard, and choral backing voices all swirl together and fade away.

Finally, after what seems like an emotional journey, we come to the beginning of the weary "Wealth." The piano is slow and then a true churchly organ comes in and the singer belts "Take my freedom!" Just as soon as you feel redemption, the melody fades back into a low base point of piano, organ, and acoustic guitar, before rising once more into a shimmering hallelujiah. Outside of a religious sanctuary, this is the closest you come to feeling that strange grey feeling that being in any holy place gives you - for good and for bad. This song makes you see the ritual, of either worshipping, of creating, of living and makes you see the holiness. For that is what church hymns do. They are tied to an institution and institutions must always be avoided, but they make you remember the power - the absolute power of melody and intoxication. How you can be swept away by any maudlin emotion of love or worship. There ain't no Jesus and there ain't no Holy Land. I wouldn't vote for either no matter who endorsed 'em. We're always East of Eden - that's way all we have is the Spirit and that's as much a tree or an onion or a beer. And that's what the organ says to me on "Wealth" as it fades away.

A poem:


The street vegetables heard you sing
Exasperated, thinking of the moon,
Never tired or angry by the oranges –
Just bloated and wanting to cry.

Your favorite movies play on Saturday
And your love seat memories come alive
Even if your skin feels less than
And your patience has drive you mad.

Subways make you think of Desolation Row,
But your mind isn’t satisfied there,
You want something fresh like parsley
A new American song in a peach crate.

The girl you know invites you over
She keeps her soul singers in a box
She tells you about the rates of sex
That a young couple should have.

While she’s asleep in the jade,
You’re out watching the lightning,
Thinking about all of the hurt feelings
And smiles you should’ve hurt much more.

So take a walk then – the backward guitar –
See the rain turn the stoplight magenta
On the pavement, feel the rain on your back;
Turn white, damp flowers into a motto.

Cars keep going but only for so long,
You’ll have to face the sunlight
Your young muscles and your friend
In her navy suit on the way to work.

The cobblestones will turn her to dust
So too will the rails you trip on
Making your way down to the waterside –
Slabs of granite waiting for a picnic.

Where is Monet to paint the crowds?
Where is Monet to paint the willow tree?
The dots gathered on the grassy shore,
The children wading shin deep in silt.

You can see the spot under the Bridge,
The spot where Hart Crane was beaten by sailors.
It’s all under water now crashing with waves
While elevators raise you to your pay.

Maybe we should all jump off of boats
And rip ourselves apart because of a song
To see the mist fall in between pine trees
To want to disappear into the day.

We could all disappear with haircuts
But then we’d all be like you
And no virtue was born of that
But here is April with its showers sure
So this May will be the best in years.
Your friend won’t tell you the story you need.
She won’t tell you of indecision in suspenders,
Of falling on the floor in delirium.
She won’t tell you the truth, because she’s your friend
And she wants to see you by the vegetables,
Alone with the moon to your right
Water in your brown, worn work loafers
And fear, alone gathered in your right hand.

That’s where your song will seed.


  1. Matt, I have read your poems on this blog closely and I have a few critiques. For one thing why do you abandon your form of iambic-ish quatrains in the final stanza or two of many of your works? I assume this is your stylistic intention so I say leave it, its kind of cool. However, you must must edit these poems. They are too long and by too long I mean they Do Not hold the great movement and surprising ideas you retain within your fiction in any consistent way. Such cliche lines as "written in stone" should never appear in poems by an author as talented as you. In terms of your verse you must separate it from your fiction, just a very small amount of experimentation could really really open these works up. A prosaic voice is, of course, wonderful and always warranted in poetry--but not prosaic ideas or form.
    As for your novel I am sure it is badass and coming along quite well. Especially in the form of a blog, however, one must make poems that speak to the audience in a fresh way and many of these works are quite tedious. Look at the authors and poets you love and admire and I am sure you will find that, even in their very longest works, they rarely push 20 or 25 lines. You are a disgustingly good writer but your poems fester in an drawling self-righteousness and unmitigated verbal laxity that is simply below you.

  2. Hey Lautreamont,

    I really appreciate your comments on my poems. I think you are definitely on to something. I think the difference in the my prose and my poetry is definitely one of scrunity, I scrutinize over my prose moreso than poems and tend to use poems more as a headline - or a rapid release. I know that definitely sounds terrible to someone who takes poetry as seriously as you seem to. I do take poetry very seriously when I read, but when I write it I tend to enjoy the freedom. But I like your points and distinction about the prosaic ideas vs. poetic ideas. I never really looked at my own poetry or really any poetry by that distinction. Its interesting. Anyway, I appreciate your comments very much and they were well put. Do you have a site or any work you could point me in the direction of?

  3. Matt, you are so intelligent and so well read that there is little I could in good faith point you toward. I must say, however, that the French have done some wonderful things in both prose and poetry. The author whose name I have stolen as my moniker is certainly one to read, as is Apollinaire, Andre Breton, Flaubert, Proust, Racine, and Gautier. Rilke, Pessoa, and Borges are 3 poets who would behoove you to read and would, similarly, complement your ambitious style. As for websites of my own I assure you that my poems, even the ones that have been published, fall far below the quality of your prose.