[1991] Talk Talk - Laughing Stock



When I bought this album in 1992 I wasn't ready. I was a huge fan of Talk Talk, right up until the album that came before (Spirit of Eden, which is brilliant by the way...). I loved the departure from pop for them. In fact, it was the quiet, dark, atonal moments in the previous albums that, for me, made Talk Talk stand out. But Laughing Stock was thick where I wanted thin, liquid where I wanted solid. I sold it a year later feeling sure it was brilliant and that I was missing out on something wonderful, but unable to appreciate it.
Laughing Stock was an album you couldn't be prepared for because there was nothing like it. Even it's predecessor Spirit of Eden couldn't prepare the listener for the murky, uneasy, passionate journey that Laughing Stock is. Other reviewers have said it was ahead of it's time. If that was true in 1992, it's even more true now. Mainstream music is, with the exception of the last 3 Radiohead albums, still ignorant of this album. Laughing Stock is like pure grief in that the only way to make sense of it is to let go, let it wash over you and not try to make sense of it at all. It is painfully brilliant, hugely musical and very peace-inducing if you can surrender to it. It's not an album to dance to, or to try to decipher in one evening and I don't think there's one hook on the whole thing. It's the kind of album you put on over and over again until suddenly you notice that everything else starts to sound kind of hollow and trite in comparison.
I once read an article with the engineer who explained that every instrument was recorded from a distance (most instruments in pop music are recorded with the microphones only inches away) and almost always in mono. The drums, for example, were recorded with one microphone from about 10 feet away instead of the traditional rock setup with a mic about 2 inches away from every drum, mixed in stereo and compressed to be full, loud and immediate. Nothing in Laughing Stock is immediate, especially the vocals, which (again, breaking tradition with 99.999% of all pop recordings) have no special priority over any other instrument and, as a result, are often buried in the mix. Silence and space play an important roll in this album as does the complex and often adversarial relationship between harmony and disonance. Years later, after hearing 'Tago Mago' by Can, 'Kind of Blue' and 'Bitches Brew' by Miles Davis, I stumbled upon an old tape copy I'd made of 'Laughing Stock' and was overwhelmed by it's brilliance. What had before seemed aloof and impenetrable felt intimate and almost painfully, passionately naked. I ran to my nearest record store (back when we had record stores) and bought my second copy feeling a lot like a man who has realized his error only a moment before it was too late. I put the CD in my CD player and played it constantly for about a year.
By the time 'Kid A' came out by Radiohead I felt unsurprised. 'Kid A' was great. I'm a big fan. But for me, it wasn't revolutionary, it wasn't groundbreaking. I had already been to the source. Laughing Stock is deep stuff, and there there is no other album quite like it. If you like modern Radiohead, if you like Tom Waits, if you love Can, Holger Czukay, or David Sylvian, you will probably love this album. But you won't love it right away. Give it time.


Genre: Post-Rock
Quality: FLAC

Runeii


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