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Mark Hollis
[The Guardian, 1998]


IT'S ALL gone quiet over here. Mark Hollis has made an album not all that far away from complete silence. Hollis, as one of the guiding spirits of Talk Talk, took his band through a strange metamorphosis, from brash Eighties synth pop that made them contemporaries of and possible rivals to the likes of Tears For Fears; to the lush, immaculate and perfectly detailed colourbook, Spirit Of Eden. Now he's come up with a record that's barely there at all. But what there is of it is wonderful.
  Not that everyone shares my opinion. When I put it on the office hi-fi my my co-workers started throwing pre-packaged marshmallow and cereal snacks at me, the stereo, each other and finally passers-by outside the window. This is not a record to play to a room full of people. They'll take it personally. It's a record so contemplative and slow-moving that an audience of more than one seems somehow inappropriate. It might be like that going to see that actress who lay around in a glass box in a London gallery for days on end last year. Very challenging and all, but the whole notion struck me as futile and embarrassing, watching a stranger sleep. Now, if she'd been doing it on videotape, that would have been okay. Still completely pointless, but okay. Now try and imagine something similar, except actually a good idea. That's Mark Hollis for you.
  Looking down the list of musicians, it surprises me that there are so many

instruments on here. Most of the time Mark Hollis sounds as if it was recorded on a single microphone placed at the far end of large, empty room and played on little more than a single guitar and a three-piece drumkit. Where are the bassoons? What's this about a Cor Anglais? Even on The Daily Planet, which positively rocks out compared to the rest of the album, the players seem to be competing to see who can make the least noise, with the harmonica man the undisputed loser.
  As any minimalist can tell you, the less that's on offer, the more attention you pay to it. Which is why a lot of minimalist music sounds so rotten; it's not worse than other music, you're just listening more carefully. Mark Hollis is rare in that it repays the effort. In style it's very similar, perhaps self-consciously, to John Cale's The Academy In Peril and Scott Walker's Tilt - both of them brilliant pieces of work. Hollis's album is warmer, but no less austere. Sung in his weak, plaintive voice, the words are stretched out so far that they lose any meaning of their own, which is probably for the best as reading the lyric sheet will make you wince. But then Hollis isn't writing poetry, he is (thank Christ) writing songs, and even so you start to wonder if the songs weren't written so much as they wandered along looking for a big, white space to inhabit. This is, no doubt, the sort of album that makes you worry you don't own enough Scandinavian furniture. It just happens to be an unusually good one. A very sober record, too, which I wouldn't usually consider much of a recommendation, but that's what gives it its clarity, reveals it as elegant, thoughtful, impassioned. In his poor, deluded, befuddled dreams, this is what Sting sounds like.

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