Of all the Talk Talk albums, 'It's My Life' is by far the most overlooked and misunderstood. NAKED Record club are huge fans of this record and are looking to eco-press the album on revolutionary non-toxic and sustainable vinyl. NAKED co-founder Simon Parker explains his love of this beauty from 1984...
I became a fan of Talk Talk back in 1982 whilst still at school. By the time 'It's My Life' was released in February 1984 I was besotted, to say the least. There weren't that many Talk Talk devotees in my class but they were a band who inspired interest. I guess they were somewhere between cool and clever. Which was a good place to be in the eighties.
I vividly recall catching the video to the single 'It's My Life' on a daytime TV show called 'Afternoon Plus' (if memory serves). Of course, I should have been at school that day, but my truancy paid dividends as co-incidence furnished me with one of very few sightings of that strange four minute nature vid that accompanied the first single from the album. I didn't know what to make of the video but the song was beautiful and has haunted me ever since. More on the importance of those Talk Talk videos later.
Many who came to the band following 1988's game-changing 'Spirit of Eden' were unimpressed with the bands earlier albums due to the abundance of synthesizers and (shock! horror!) pop songs. But later period Talk Talk would not have been possible without 'It's My Life' selling in decent quantities across Europe and America. This helped to furnish the band with a level of autonomy from their record label EMI and gave them the freedom to experiment in the studio on later recordings. In fact, successive Talk Talk albums can all be seen as building blocks towards the next in terms of musical innovation and it's true to say that if 'It's My Life' had not performed well there would have been no quantum leap into what would become known as the 'post-rock
All of this is made even more miraculous because 'It's My Life' did not sell well in the UK upon its release. Not one of the three singles made the Top 40 (this in itself would usually have sounded the death knell for many major-label artists of that era) and the album scraped to a lowly 35 in the charts.
Putting things into perspective from a UK point of view, even the bands first album 'The Party's Over' had managed to reach number 23 back in 1982.
This seemed particularly mystifying because all three singles ('It's My Life', 'Such A Shame' and 'Dum Dum Girl') were outstanding tracks worthy of Top 10 action. There didn't seem to be any supply issues as EMI got the singles to the record shops on time and there were the usual proliferation of limited edition variants to help bolster sales to us committed fans. But what I don't recall was a lot of airplay from Radio One, which at the time was crucial to Top 40 success.
Due to these poor chart showings the band did not appear on Top of the Pops during 1984 and with this went any chance of the band repeating past successes of earlier singles. It's also interesting to note that the promo video's for all three singles from 'It's My Life' (as outlined earlier here) were the complete antithesis of what was going on in promotional films at the time. Whilst most videos were being filmed in far off countries and involved ludicrous plots, eye-watering budgets and hammy acting, Talk Talk videos for their 1984 singles were shot at London zoo, outside the Somer's Arms pub in Battersea and in a remote field in Bedfordshire. All three were courtesy of visionary pop promo maker Tim Pope who also elevated the art of pop videos for The Cure (amongst others) with his controversial and slightly off-kilter ideas. I suspect that the Talk Talk videos didn't go down too well in the EMI boardroom...
'It's My Life' was the first Talk Talk album to be produced by Tim Friese-Greene. His involvement became pivotal to the bands musical development. Tim also shared song-writing responsibilities with vocalist Mark Hollis and this opened up a new world of melodic possibilities to the group. Mark possessed a truly remarkable and distinctive vocal style and it's interesting to note the development of melodies and chord changes between the first two albums. Tim's superior and classically influenced keyboard playing bought more complex arrangements and highlighted the melancholy in Hollis' otherworldly voice, pushing the singer to previously unchartered heights. Just listen to the sheer intensity of Hollis' vocal delivery on 'Such A Shame'. Truly magical.
Allegedly, Tim Friese-Greene had been chosen for the producers chair after Mark first heard Tight Fits' camp classic 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight' , a UK number one in March of 1982. This claim sounds like a typical Hollis wind-up, but the production style of 'Lion' is reminiscent of the methods Talk Talk would come to utilize (in particular, listen to the rhythm track for a glimpse of the tribal feel TT drummer Lee Harris bought to several 'It's My Life' songs).
But the true seeds of the sonic palete for Talk Talk's second album can be traced back to a little-known Friese-Greene production from 1983. Blue Zoo's 'Two By Two
' debut bears many of the hallmarks of what made 'It's My Life' such a joy to behold. Combining inventive rhythms, sparkling synths and state of the art effects gave the Blue Zoo boys a decent shot at success, but alas they were perhaps lacking a couple of strong album tracks to help get their point across. It's still a good album and well worth checking out on vinyl.
No such quality control issues with Talk Talk who presented us with a fautless album featuring nine imperious tracks. There is absolutely
no filler on 'It's My Life' and the record feels perfectly weighted from start to finish. Slower tracks such as 'Renée
' and 'Tomorrow Started
' throb with innate sadness but 'The Last Time
' and 'Call In The Night Boy
' keep the album motoring towards the epic finality of 'It's You
The production of 'IML' sounds warm and inviting. It's a sumptuous record which was allegedly very expensive to make. I particularly love the way the acoustic guitar sits against the keyboards, propelling the songs forwards whilst adding drama and texture in equal doses. Remember, there was no guitar on 'The Party's Over' and its role here feels vitally important to the bands development. Lee Harris and Paul Webb prove themselves a formidable rhythm section throughout the album with less emphasis on the Simmons drum kit this time round, whilst Paul's fretless bass is the standout instrument on the afore mentioned 'Renée'.
Question: What's with all the synthesized animal sound effects on 'It's My Life'?!
I have long pondered the significance of the albums penchant for animal and bird noises but can only think they were intended to evoke a feeling of warmth and familiarity. As mentioned earlier, the video for the single of 'It's My Life' was shot at London zoo and featured animals and birds of every shape and size. A happy co-incidence or perhaps something slightly deeper? If I'm honest, I have no idea. Sorry.
Has anyone else noticed Mark Hollis' penchant for recycling old soul and sixties musical references? Not just on 'It's My Life' but also on the equally fantastic 'The Colour of Spring
' . Song titles such as 'Renée
' , 'Pictures of Bernadette', 'Give It Up' , and Does Caroline Know?' are just some of the sly nods to soul music, The Four Tops, The Beach Boys and beyond. Clues to Mark's personal influences maybe? We know that he was hugely influenced by his older brother Ed, whose 10,000 strong record collection included many pop, jazz and classical references that the singer would go on to cite in interviews.
The wonderfully evocative artwork for 'IML' was the work of the supremely talented James Marsh whose designs would become synonymous with all future Talk Talk releases.
Within the images on the front cover we are (again) presented with animals, insects and birds, only here they are depicted as jigsaw pieces floating towards a calm evening sea. Keith Breeden's layout is tasteful in its minimalism and the violet-hued colour scheme helps elevate the album with its enigmatic post-modernist feel. Whilst many album sleeves of this era were over busy and gaudy, 'It's My Life' has a hypnotic bookish quality that makes it stand apart. In my youth I spent a lot of time trying to decipher what I was being presented with here but I'm not sure I ever got past the basic ' jigsaw pieces of a life' explanation. And as for those bubbles? I'm totally in the dark! .
So that's the NAKED take on Talk Talk's 1984 masterpiece. 'It's My Life' opened my eyes to a whole new world of musical possibilities and I consider it one of my favourite albums of all-time. Of course, it goes without saying that we would jump at the chance to manufacture a limited edition eco-press of this wonderful recording. I hope we will be able to convince Warner Music to grant us a licence to make one of NAKED's sustainable and non-toxic vinyl records in the near future, because I have a feeling Mark would have liked the idea of sustainable vinyl that helps look after the planet, resplendent with all those animals, birds and insects that he was so fond of.
Watch this space and thanks for reading!. I will be adding other 'NAKED Loves' to our www.NakedRecord.Club
website over the coming weeks.
One day ALL records will be made the NAKED way...