Spirit of Eden

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Spirit of Eden
Studio album by Talk Talk
Released 16 September 1988
Recorded 1987–1988 at Wessex Studios in Highbury, London
Genre Post-rock, art rock, jazz
Length 41:30
Label Parlophone, EMI
Producer Tim Friese-Greene
Talk Talk chronology
The Colour of Spring
Spirit of Eden
Laughing Stock

Spirit of Eden is the fourth album by the English band Talk Talk, released in 1988. Critical reception on release was mixed, and it was not a commercial success; still, its reputation has improved over the years, and it is now seen by some critics as influential to post-rock, a music genre that developed in Britain and North America in the 1990s. Numerous publications have retrospectively named it one of the best albums of the 1980s.

The songs were written by Mark Hollis and Tim Friese-Greene, and performed by numerous musicians using a diverse combination of instruments. The album developed from a lengthy recording process at Wessex Studios, London during 1987 and 1988: often working in darkness, the band recorded many hours of improvised performances, edited them down heavily, then arranged the remaining pieces into an album using digital equipment. The end product includes elements of rock, jazz, classical, and ambient music. The album, the fourth by the band, was released on the Parlophone record label, an imprint of EMI.

In 2008, Alan McGee of the Guardian wrote: "Spirit of Eden has not dated; it's remarkable how contemporary it sounds, anticipating post-rock, The Verve and Radiohead. It's the sound of an artist being given the keys to the kingdom and returning with art."[1]

Critics often view Spirit of Eden as a departure from Talk Talk's previous albums. Compared to their 1986 hit The Colour of Spring, it was commercially unsuccessful. While upon release it received mostly mixed to negative reviews, it has been acknowledged as being an influence in the musical development of a number of later alternative rock musicians and subgenres.


Talk Talk, led by singer Mark Hollis, formed in England in the early 1980s. From the start, Hollis cited jazz and classical artists like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Béla Bartók, and Claude Debussy as major musical influences. But Talk Talk's first two albums, The Party's Over (1982) and It's My Life (1984), did not readily reflect such influences; critics compared the band to contemporary new wave groups, especially Duran Duran. Hollis partly attributes the shortcomings of their early music to a financial need to use synthesizers in place of acoustic instruments.

Although critics did not favour the band's early output, the first two albums were commercially successful in Europe. This gave Talk Talk the money needed to hire additional musicians to play on their next album, The Colour of Spring (1986). The band no longer had to rely on synthesizers. Instead, musicians improvised with their instruments for many hours, then Hollis and producer Tim Friese-Greene edited and arranged the performances to get the sound they wanted. A total of sixteen musicians appeared on the album. The Colour of Spring became Talk Talk's most successful album, selling over two million copies and prompting a major world tour.[2] At the same time, minimalist songs like "April 5th," "Chameleon Day," and the B-side "It's Getting Late in the Evening" pointed towards the band's next direction.[3]


It was very, very psychedelic. We had candles and oil wheels, strobes going, sometimes just total darkness in the studio. You'd get totally disorientated, no daylight, no time frame.

Phill Brown, Engineer[4]

For the success of The Colour of Spring, EMI rewarded Talk Talk with an open budget and schedule for the recording of their next album, Spirit of Eden.[5] Talk Talk were given complete control over the recording process; their manager and EMI executives were barred from studio sessions.[2] Recording for Spirit of Eden began in 1987 at Wessex Studios, London and took about a year to complete.[6] Engineer Phill Brown has also stated that the album, along with its successor, was "recorded by chance, accident, and hours of trying every possible overdub idea."[7]

Contract dispute with EMI[edit]

By early March 1988, the band had finished recording Spirit of Eden and had sent a cassette of the album to EMI. After listening to the cassette, EMI representatives doubted that it could be commercially successful. They asked Hollis to re-record a song or replace material, but he refused to do so. By the time the masters were delivered later in the month, however, the label conceded that the album had been satisfactorily completed.[8]

Despite their reservations towards Spirit of Eden, EMI chose to exercise their option to extend the recording contract. The band, however, wanted out of the contract. "I knew by that time that EMI was not the company this band should be with," manager Keith Aspden told Mojo. "I was fearful that the money wouldn't be there to record another album."[9] EMI and Talk Talk went to court to decide the issue.

The case centred on whether EMI had notified the band about the contract extension in time. As part of the agreement, EMI had to send a written notice within three months after the completion of Spirit of Eden. The band said that EMI had sent the notice too late, arguing that the three-month period began once recording had finished; EMI argued that the three-month period did not begin until they were satisfied with the recording. Justice Andrew Morritt ruled in favour of EMI, but his decision was overturned in the Court of Appeal of England and Wales.[8] Talk Talk were released from the contract and later signed to Polydor.

Marketing and release history[edit]

Spirit of Eden's moody, experimental nature made it a challenge to promote; one critic said it "is the kind of record which encourages marketing men to commit suicide."[10] Tony Wadsworth, Parlophone's marketing director at the time, told Q: "Talk Talk are not your ordinary combo and require sympathetic marketing. They're not so much difficult as not obvious. You've just got to find as many ways as possible to expose the music."[11] Evaluating some masterpieces of the eighties in a 2004 article for The Guardian, John Robinson calls Spirit of Eden, like David Sylvian's Brilliant Trees, "triumphant, [but] completely unmarketable."[12]

Although the band did not originally plan to release a single, EMI issued a radio edit of "I Believe In You" in September 1988 (the previously unreleased "John Cope" was included as the B-side). The single failed to breach the UK Singles Chart Top 75. Around November, Tim Pope directed a music video for "I Believe in You", featuring Hollis sitting with his guitar, singing the lyrics. "That was a massive mistake," said Hollis. "I thought just by sitting there and listening and really thinking about what it was about, I could get that in my eyes. But you cannot do it. It just feels stupid."[11]

The band did not tour in support of the album. Hollis explained, "There is no way that I could ever play again a lot of the stuff I played on this album because I just wouldn't know how to. So, to play it live, to take a part that was done in spontaneity, to write it down and then get someone to play it, would lose the whole point, lose the whole purity of what it was in the first place."[6] They would never tour again.

Spirit of Eden was released worldwide in 1988. It did not enjoy nearly as much commercial success as The Colour of Spring. The album spent five weeks on the UK Albums Chart, peaking at #19.[13] The album cover depicts a tree festooned with seashells, snails, birds, and insects. It was illustrated by James Marsh, who did Talk Talk's artwork throughout their career. The booklet provides reproductions of Hollis' handwritten lyrics. The album was digitally remastered by Phill Brown and Denis Blackham in 1997. A hybrid Super Audio CD (without surround sound) surfaced in 2003.

Musical style[edit]

Although the album is noted for its tranquil soundscapes, Graham Sutton of Bark Psychosis notes "Noise is important. I could never understand people I knew who liked Talk Talk and saw it as something 'nice to chill out to' when I loved the overwhelming intensity and the dynamics."[14]

Spirit closed with the line "Take my freedom for giving me a sacred love" – it sounded like Hollis had been boning up on the renegade, mystical Christianity of William Blake.

Rob Young, The Wire[15]

Mark Hollis' lyrics contain religious and spiritual references. Though Hollis acknowledges that his lyrics are religious, he says they are not based on a specific religion, preferring to think of them as "humanitarian."[15] "I Believe in You" has been described as an "anti-heroin song."[5] When asked whether the lyrics are based on personal experience, Hollis replied, "No, not at all. But, you know, I met people who got totally fucked up on it. Within rock music there's so much fucking glorification of it, and it is a wicked, horrible thing."[15]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[16]
Drowned in Sound (9/10)[17]
NME (7/10)[18]
Q 4/5 stars[19]
Sounds 4.5/5 stars[20]
Stylus Magazine (positive)[21]
Tiny Mix Tapes 5/5 stars[22]
Treble (positive)[23]

Spirit of Eden has been both acclaimed and panned by numerous music critics. Marcus Berkmann of The Spectator in a 2001 retrospective felt that the album was "almost wilfully obscure", with a musical style close to free-form jazz that was too far removed from The Colour of Spring for fans to enjoy.[24] Roy Wilkinson of Sounds felt that the band had "evolved into contemplative muso-techs", and while their lyrics were a weak point and the second side did not fully work, the first side achieved "magnificence".[25]

In the 1992 Rolling Stone Album Guide, J.D. Considine rated the album 1 star out of 5: "Instead of getting better or worse, this band simply grew more pretentious with each passing year. . . . by Spirit of Eden, Mark Hollis's Pete Townshend-on-Dramamine vocals have been pushed aside by the band's pointless noodling." Simon Williams of NME found the album 'aimless' but also commented, "...they're resolute and determined, flaunting commercial rules with fascinating disregard for understanding or acceptance."[18] A review in Q criticised the band for not attempting to create more commercial music, but concluded that "If Spirit of Eden often recalls the pastoral epics of the early 70s, it has a range, ambition and self-sufficiency that enables Hollis and co to step out of time and into their own."[19] PopMatters's retrospective review named Spirit of Eden "an album for the ages."[26] Pitchfork Media named Spirit of Eden the 34th best album of the 1980s.[27] In 2006, Q magazine placed the album at No. 31 in its list of "40 Best Albums of the '80s."[28] In 2012, Slant Magazine listed the album at No. 56 on its list of "Best Albums of the 1980s."[29] In 2013, NME ranked it at number 95 in its list of NME's The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[30]


Some music critics consider Spirit of Eden and its 1991 follow-up Laughing Stock influential to post-rock, a music genre that developed in Britain and North America in the 1990s. In a review of Bark Psychosis' album Hex, where the term "post-rock" was coined, Simon Reynolds opined that Hex aspires to the "baroque grandeur" of Spirit of Eden.[14] Andy Whitman of Paste magazine argues that Spirit of Eden represents the beginning of post-rock: "The telltale marks of the genre—textured guitars, glacial tempos, an emphasis on dynamics, electronica, ambience and minimalism—were all in place, and paved the way for bands like Sigur Rós, Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Low and latter-period Radiohead." Simon Harper of the Birmingham Post adds, "Certainly, their combination of jazz, classical, rock and the spacey echoes of dub, using silence almost as an instrument in its own right, lends itself to the vernacular of post-rock, and there can be little argument that Tortoise and their Chicago-based compatriots would hardly sound the same were it not for the staggering achievements of Hollis and Tim Friese-Greene."[31] Numerous bands and artists, ranging from Catherine Wheel to Sarah McLachlan, to Matthew Good, Graham Coxon, Doves and Elbow, have praised Spirit of Eden or have cited it as an influence in their own music.[citation needed] Indie folk group Bon Iver covered "I Believe in You" during a 2008 show in Dublin and Edinburgh.

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Tim Friese-Greene and Mark Hollis

No. Title Length
1. "The Rainbow"   9:05
2. "Eden"   6:37
3. "Desire"   7:08
4. "Inheritance"   5:16
5. "I Believe in You"   6:24
6. "Wealth"   6:35

The track times reflect the original North American version of the CD. UK and European releases of the CD present the first three songs, "The Rainbow", "Eden" and "Desire", as a single track, totalling 23:11. The North American version of the album, and subsequent international reissues, divide the suite into three tracks, although they are still presented without an audible break.[2] There is a forced silence of just over 30 seconds between "Desire" and "Inheritance". Working titles of the songs were "Modell", "Camel", "Maureen", "Norm", "Inheritance", "Snow in Berlin" and "Eric".[7]



  1. ^ McGee, Alan (9 April 2008). "Wherefore art thou Mark Hollis". The Guardian. 
  2. ^ a b c Unknown 1988, p. 53.
  3. ^ Irvin 2001, p. 603.
  4. ^ Brown, "Sharing food and conversation with Phill Brown."
  5. ^ a b Neiss, James (December 1991). "Talk Talk". Record Collector. 
  6. ^ a b Unknown 1988.
  7. ^ a b Brown, Phill (12 November 1998). "The Colour of EQing". Within Without. 
  8. ^ a b EMI Records Limited v Hollis & Others (Court of Appeal (Civil Division) 23 May 1989).
  9. ^ Unknown 1988, p. 54.
  10. ^ Cooper, Mark (October 1988). "Rev. of Talk Talk, Spirit of Eden". Q. 
  11. ^ a b Devoy, Adrian (1988). "Come On, Market Me". Q. 
  12. ^ Robinson, John (27 June 2009). "Pieces of Eighties". The Guardian (London). 
  13. ^ Guinness Book of British Hit Albums (7th ed.). ISBN 0-85112-619-7. 
  14. ^ a b Reynolds, Simon (March 1994). "[Hex by Bark Psychosis review]". Mojo. 
  15. ^ a b c Rob Young (January 1998). "Mark Hollis Interview". The Wire (The Wire Magazine Ltd.). Retrieved 3 September 2012. 
  16. ^ Spirit of Eden at AllMusic
  17. ^ Chris Nettleton (5 May 2004). "Talk Talk – Spirit of Eden". Retrieved 13 April 2012. 
  18. ^ a b Williams, Simon. (24 September 1988).NME album review, Within Without.
  19. ^ a b Cooper, Mark. (October 1988). Q album review, Within Without.
  20. ^ Roy Wilkinson. "Spirit of Eden (Parlophone)". Retrieved 13 April 2012. 
  21. ^ Nick Southall (3 March 2003). "Talk Talk – Spirit of Eden". Retrieved 13 April 2012. 
  22. ^ Charles Ubagh. "Talk Talk – Spirit of Eden". Retrieved 13 April 2012. 
  23. ^ Thomas Lee (14 September 2006). "Stranded: Talk Talk – Spirit of Eden". Retrieved 13 April 2012. 
  24. ^ Marcus Berkmann (10 November 2001). "Hits and misses". The Spectator. Retrieved 3 September 2012. 
  25. ^ Roy Wilkinson (24 September 1988). "Talk Talk: Spirit Of Eden – Review". Sounds. Retrieved 3 September 2012. 
  26. ^ Hicks, Chuck. (10 September 2001). Spirit of Eden review, PopMatters
  27. ^ Pitchfork: Top 100 Albums of the 1980s, page 7
  28. ^ Q August 2006, Issue 241
  29. ^ http://www.slantmagazine.com/music/feature/best-albums-of-the-1980s/308/page_5
  30. ^ http://www.rocklistmusic.co.uk/nme_500_greatest_albums_2013.htm
  31. ^ Harper 2005, p. 11.

External links[edit]