Talk Talk the Colour of SpringThe first time I heard Talk Talk’s “Life’s What You Make It”, taken from their 1986 album The Colour of Spring, I was in a hotel room in Perth, Ontario. I was going to attend a wedding nearby the next day, and I was watching the video. Before this, I knew of Talk Talk mostly through another video and song of theirs – “It’s My Life”. But, I was fascinated by this song and its accompanying video too. The song is built on a simple, central rhythm track as played on the piano, accompanied by a tenacious back beat. The heavy left-hand chords that are the engine of the song – plodding, yet also compelling – providing an unlikely hook. It’s like a song that is ready to start, to kick off into a torrent of rage, yet never does. The tension of that is extremely powerful. This was the direction that singer Mark Hollis and producer Tim Friese-Green were moving in at the time; creating music which incorporates a sense of space, moving away from the agendas of pop music. The two would go on to craft what is considered to be their masterpiece under the Talk Talk moniker, the 1988 album The Spirit of Eden, which was even more minimalist in approach.

Also, I am always struck by the guitar riff in this song, played by hotshot session guy David Rhodes, who among other items on his resume had built a pretty impressive track record while playing with another one of my heroes, Peter Gabriel. I can never decide on how to describe the riff; it’s both jagged and ferocious, as well as being kind of ethereal and echoey. I don’t know. Maybe that’s why it is so compelling – it’s both.

Check out this clip, and judge for yourself.

The lyrics, if taken literally, can be seen as a truncated motivational speech. Yet you get the impression that there are levels of irony at work here, perhaps down to Hollis’ mournful-yet-desperate delivery. There is darkness and pain to be mined here, below the surface of the key phrase which, in the end, is not really defined as being positive or negative. You get the impression that because of this, there is a certain emotional numbness at work here, that understanding that life’s what you make it, doesn’t necessarily mean that the energy is there to make it something good.

This remains to be one of my favourite songs by anyone, built as it is on some very basic fundamentals of the best in pop music – texture, distinctiveness, and with several levels of emotional connection emanating from some mysterious place which seem to be operating all at once.



3 thoughts on “The Song in My Head Today: ‘Life’s What You Make It’ by Talk Talk

  1. Great song.

    We discussed Talk Talk a little in your article about 10 Great Cover Songs. Let me ramble a bit more about them now…

    First, this is one of my favorite bands. From their debut album with its infectious title track, it was clear this alleged “next Duran Duran” had talent DD could not match.

    Then came the album ‘It’s My Life’. The title track and numerous others are great, but ‘Renée’ is the true beauty for me:

    “And maybe when the cheat plays
    Maybe when the ace falls from his suit
    And he tells you “Yeah that’s the game.
    I didn’t want to lose it on the two”

    You’re playing his way,
    but the prize that you’ve been losing was youth
    And I say “Throw the ace,
    and face up to the truth”

    That song and album sold me on TT’s greatness, but I did not yet know what was to come.

    Then came ‘The Colour of Spring’, about which you wrote here. One of my all-time favorite TT songs is there. In ‘Living In Another World’ Hollis sings:

    “Did I see tenderness where you saw hell? (Forget)
    Did I see angels in the hand I held? (Forget)
    God only knows what kind of tale you’d tell (Forget)”

    The song aches, all the while over a driving beat. In fact, that entire album side is a remarkable 20 minute journey into the emotions of one man. Starting with the above song and its heartbreak, followed by “Give It Up”, which is full of despair:

    “How can I learn
    if I don’t understand what I see
    If I’m giving this mess
    Take a walk through a nightmare so real”

    Then leading into a transitional song in ‘Chameleon’:

    “Breathe on me
    eclipse my mind
    It’s in some kind of disarray”

    And finally closing with a sense of hope on Time Its Time:

    “As bad as bad becomes
    It’s not a part of you
    And love is only sleeping
    Wrapped in neglect”

    I LOVE that album side.

    The other thing about this album in retrospect is that it truly served as a bridge between what they had done before and what was to come.

  2. Thanks for that, Tom. I suspected you’d chime in here. 🙂

    I personally see a lot of parallels between Talk Talk and Radiohead. The same sense of musical progression is there, and the ambition and ideas off of the beaten track which both bands entertained to allow them to get there.

    Thanks again, as usual Tom.

  3. Driving percussion and piano rhythm, beautiful background synth harmonic…and a powerful vocal from Hollis…with lyrics that are positive, life-affirming; euphoric.For me, the lyrics are a mature appraisal of life beyond the initial “rush” of youth…”baby-yesterday’s favourite…don’t you hate it?…Everything’s alright… life’s what you make it! Everything’s alright….don’t back date it…beauty’s naked!…everything’s alright…..”
    A masterpiece of the highest order.

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