The Reagan-Bush era was full of musical extremes. The decade’s greatest accomplishment was pushing those extremes in to the pop mainstream. There would always be true alternative music from obscurities like Limbo District, but the Second English Invasion would go a long way to help raise the bar on what was considered alternative and mainstream. One bar raiser was Talk Talk.
There were really two kinds of Talk Talk. There’s the artsy fusions of the experimental band that created masterpieces like Sprit of Eden and the other version that made pop hits like”It’s My Life” that were as sophisticated as anything from the Style Council or Tears For Fears.
Talk Talk was not like your usual English ’80s pop band. Thanks mostly to it’s innovative lead vocalist/producer Tim Friese-Greene. The band might have been dismissed as a one hit wonder too soon after their US debut single “Talk Talk” became a dance hit in 1982. I was a high school senior by the time their follow up album and single It’s My Life was released. By then Friese-Green had become a full time member and people were beginning to know who Talk Talk was.
Parts of It’s My Life resembles early Tears For Fears with occasional fret less bass and various wind instruments, but the similarities end there. By mixing live instruments, (some of them rather exotic) with synthesizers, the band created a sophisticated sound that would have made Roxy Music proud and was somewhat out of step with mainstream trends. With no saxophone or rock guitar solo to be heard, the songs of It’s My Life are contemplative with an expansive sound stage not unlike New Romanticism.
Friese-Greene may not have been a Brian Ferry, but his emotive voice had a mildly seductive nature to it. It was unique in that sounded nasal and vulnerable, yet had some of the confidant crooner qualities of Brian Ferry or David Bowie.
Maybe it was the higher register or the grown up songwriting, whatever it was it was substantially more evolved than the band debut just a year before. For this reason alone Talk Talk’s pop efforts like this one have worn better over time than the music of their contemporaries from this period.
It’s My Life was no Thriller, but it did produce a number of small hits in America for Talk Talk to the point of making them more than a footnote in the Second British Invasion. The single Talk Talk was a bonafide American Top 40 hit, but much of this excellent album including “Dum Dum Girl”, “Such a Shame” and “Does Caroline Know” was limited to college radio.
The success of It’s My Life prompted the more ambitious but no less enjoyable The Colour of Spring two years later. It would not be long after that that Talk Talk would abandon pop altogether revealing its other side with the masterpiece Sprit of Eden.