The man who didn’t need role models — Rolling Stone

Our obituary from February 25, 2019

A thin man with a long part in the middle, his stringy hair falling over his face, his ears sticking out to the right and left, his eyes behind dark wire-rimmed glasses. Mark Hollis wasn’t a pop star, he was the opposite of a pop star. A shy artist who refused the constraints and demands of the music industry, who gave up everything at the peak of his success, or rather: did with unprecedented consistency what he and his band had been aiming for, in the end alone with his producer and a piece of music of disappearance. Now Mark Hollis has died.

His band was called Talk Talk, after a song the London musician wrote early on. The song “Talk Talk” had already set the tone that would make Hollis’ band unique: a superficially lively synth pop track with lava flowing beneath its shell. Mark Hollis sang with a gesture of desperation that one could find romantic, and his record company believed that the young band, which apart from Hollis included bassist Paul Webb, drummer Lee Harris and keyboardist Simon Brenner, was well into the early 80s To be able to fit in with the New Romantics wave. “The Party’s Over” was the name of their first album, a statement that was lost in the noise of his contemporaries Duran Duran and Depeche Mode.

Talk Talk, 1982. Left to right: Simon Brenner, Mark Hollis, Lee Harris and Paul Webb.

Hollis could write hits. “It’s My Life”, “Such a Shame”, “Dum Dum Girl” – British pop music of the mid-80s had few better ones. And no one could combine euphoria and depression more convincingly. “Funny, how I find myself in love with you?/If I could buy my reasoning, I’d pay to lose,” sang Hollis with full emphasis, “It’s my life/Don’t you forget/It never ends.”

That wasn’t true.

But of course, in 1986, when “The Color Of Spring”, the third album, was released, it was impossible to foresee how Hollis would lead his fellow musicians to the edge of the familiar pop mold and beyond. “Life’s What You Make It” is once again an unlikely and irresistible scream, driven by a powerful piano riff. A desperate celebration of life, baby.

After that, Mark Hollis and Talk Talk destroyed her career. “Sprit Of Eden” was released in 1988. They isolated themselves in a church while recording, ignored several of their label’s deadlines and went way over the budget. The album consisted of six pieces and had no role models. At least not in the pop context it should have fit into. Hollis and producer Tim Friese-Greene, who had increasingly become Hollis’ closest musical partner, pushed their music into the open, genres dissolved into a sound of great freedom.

There were no more singles and nothing commercially available. The label turned off the juice. And Hollis recorded a final Talk-Talk album with Friese-Greene, called Laughing Stock, breathtaking in its soaring, meandering sonority. It was released on the jazz label Verve. A ghost piano feels its way through “Taphead,” a trumpet finds a melody, Hollis whimpers from Fern. The six pieces swirl and flow into one another, just as blues, jazz, trace elements of classical pop music and romantic classics flow into one another. Mark Hollis’s desperation seemed to have been replaced by concentrated absorption.

Paul Webb, Mark Hollis and Lee Harris 1984

Once again, twenty years ago now, Mark Hollis gave a sign of life. He released a self-titled solo album, his first and only, a work of dissolution, music that seemed to stand in the air like a dragonfly, a sound against which “Laughing Stock” seemed heavy and voluminous. It was supposed to be Hollis’ final farewell to music.

What Mark Hollis has done over the past twenty years? One does not know. He remains hidden from public view. The few confidantes he kept in touch with reported that he led a modest life, made possible by the popularity of his hits, that he was interested in football and showed no intention whatsoever of returning to music. A Syd Barrett of the New Wave.

He died on Monday February 18th.

Michael Putland Getty Images

Photo Rob Verhorst Redferns