Stylists have thrown in the towel, promotional persons have blanched, record execs have shed real tears as, over six years, Talk Talk have been increasingly impervious to the selling machine. The new album is a glorious indulgence - defiantly downbeat, relentlessly demanding, "free form" ...
"No" says Mark Hollis stubbornly, he will not look directly into the camera as this, apparently is compromise tantamount to soul-selling. "No," he says, he doesn't see why he should have to explain his music to anyone. It speaks, he reasons - dusting down the superannuated cliche - for itself. "No," he explains, he will not read this article. He's been stitched up in the press so many times before, it will probably happen again.
The trouble is that Mark Hollis and his band, Talk Talk, have just released their fourth LP, Spirit Of Eden, and there are promotional duties to reluctantly perform. Had Spirit Of Eden been an unremarkable pop record, none of this would have been necessary. However, this is not the case. For Spirit Of Eden is a quite remarkable, possibly even significant work that makes their powerfully dense and emotional 1986 set, The Colour Of Spring, sound not unlike a Rubettes demo.
It is the fourth stage in Talk Talk's intriguing metamorphosis from the quirky singles band who appeared at a time when Duran Duran were considered the ultimate role model, to a collective of almost painfully intense musicians who are much given to name-checking Satie, Bartok ("a great geezer") and Debussy.
Mark Hollis, in what occasionally seems to be a strained attempt to appear enigmatic, is keen to dismiss his past, his flunked university degree in child psychology, his five years of fruitless toil with punk band The Reaction, even the "diabolical" treatment of Talk Talk when they first hopped aboard the pop carousel in 1982. Hollis's co-writer and producer, Tim Friese-Greene, is similarly reticent to reminisce. "As far as I'm concerned," he says, "this began in 1984 with It's My Life and nothing else is particularly relevant."
Both Hollis and Friese-Greene will happily discuss "vibe", "feel", and how they achieved Spirit Of Eden's brittle and brooding atmospheres, harsh dynamic extremes and constant mesmeric pulse. But amid heavy-shouldered shrugs and staunchly monosyllabic pleas of ignorance, neither seems vaguely interested as to who will buy the record, how it will be made available or the effect it will have. They leave this to Tony Wadsworth, Capitol and Parlophone Record's General Manager who is responsible for the marketing of among others Queen, Pet Shop Boys and Morrissey.
"Talk Talk are not your ordinary combo and require sympathetic marketing," he explains diplomatically. "They're not so much difficult as not obvious. You've just got to find as many ways as possible to expose the music. The standard marketing route is whack out a single, try to chart the single, and then hopefully on the strength of that, sell some albums. With the way the media is angled, the room you've got to expose adult music - for want of a better term - is very restricted. We've got to do what I believe to be a very heavy campaign on Talk Talk. we've got to go out very bullishly and tell people that this is an album for 1988. That will be the sales pitch - An Album For 1988."
Similarly. Spirit Of Eden could be An Album for 1972. It boasts just six songs, three of which seamlessly comprise one side of the LP. No one track appears to exceed 15 beats per minute smooch-limit. The instrumentation is predominantly acoustic and Hollis's anguished Steve Winwood-registered voice seldom rises above a whisper. The lyrics abstractly embrace such thigh-slapping subject matter as moral decline, drug addiction and that perennial party-starter, death. Commercially, it is hard to envisage the album as "a goer".
"when I heard it first in it's finished form," says Tony Wadsworth, "I thought, Mmm, this is interesting, then got into it very quickly. Technology aside, it could have been made 20 years ago. I see it as even earlier than that. It's like a cross between classical music and jazz with a modern perspective. I don't see it as directly related to acid house but I see the phenomenon as having the same sorts of roots. There's common interests. They're both free-form with an insistent rhythm. I think it'll be well received. People are looking something a little more open-minded."
"Pace is of the essence," says Friese-Greene of the albums refusal to break into a brisk stroll, "even if it is a pace that approaches vanishing point at times. The more relaxed the pace, the more importance everything that happens assumes. You have to be careful and not overstep the line from being relaxed to being tedious and I think we've kept on the right side of that."
"The dynamics are a little bit hard to take at first," he continues. "There were times during the mixing when I thought, I'm not sure about this, but it scrapes through. Again it had to strike the right note between intensity and irritation. But we're not being naive about it. Some people could definitely be put off by the pace of it or the level of intensity and if people are uncomfortable with that maybe, with respect, they should listen to something else."
Talk Talk's image has, throughout their six-year career, moved nonchalantly between the poor and the non-existent. Despite having been "styled" upon their signing to EMI ("We were under terrible pressure," says Hollis. "It's a very ugly thing. Things went down that I was very unhappy with. It was ridiculous. Disgusting. But I don't regret it they just made me more adamant never to get caught like that again"), the band soon went their own sartorial way, growing unkempt normal-to-greasy hair, wearing clothes that could only have been bought with a War On Want charge-card and sporting footwear which invited the expression "hush puppies".
"The image," laughs Tony Wadsworth, "or lack of it, doesn't bother you when you have Pink Floyd on your label. Look at Dire Straits. Hardly the most fashion-conscious group, and yet they're the biggest band in the world. Talk Talk have always seen that side of things as a distraction from the music."
Hollis's rocky relationship with the press swiftly gained him a reputation as being something of a surly, self-obsessed character.
"You can understand that, though." argues Friese-Greene. "When Mark started up he was sometimes doing 12 interviews a day. That just drives you mad after a while and you have to do something, wind the journalist up or whatever, to remain sane."
"It doesn't worry me that Mark is seen as uncooperative," says Wadsworth. "It worries me more that we might put him in a situation that might compromise him. I can fully understand that a serious artist like Mark does not want to go on Saturday morning children's television and have 10 gallons of sludge poured over him and then be presented with a giant inflatable banana. I mean this man is a father!"
Mark Hollis is aware that he is perceived as "a difficult geezer" at times. This, he says, is because he won't "play that game" of handshaking and pleasantry-exchanging. But rather than giving the impression of being a terse, rapier-tongued weasel, he comes over more as a nervous, pensive individual with a few ideas of great import to unleash upon the populace. He is motivated, he says, by the need to make great and "increasingly personal" music. "Money is not a worry," he sniffs. "I've got all the money I need." Indeed, the sales of Talk Talk's three LPs to date have been mightily respectable. The Party's Over - promoted by two hit singles and a sizable American tour supporting Elvis Costello - sold over a quarter million copies, their second album; It's My Life, went gold in every European country except Britain, selling particularly well following exhaustive live work, in Italy ("I couldn't tell you why that was," mutters Hollis. "You'd have to ask everyone in Britain and then everyone in Italy, I suppose"); The Colour Of Spring aided and abetted by the Top 20 single Life's What You Make It, also went gold. Split the net profits and divide between Hollis, Friese-Greene, drummer Harris and bass player Paul Webb who comprise the group's - hey! - floating nucleus and it doesn't take long to fathom out how Hollis can afford to sit in his Suffolk village rectory and "just do music, really." Ask Tim Friese-Greene if Hollis is he most boring person in the world, he will pause and reply, "No ... he's probably the second most boring person in the world, because, according to him, there is no-one more boring than me."
One wonders how they mustered the energy to produce such a reaction-provoking record. "Well, it's certainly a reaction to the music that's around at the moment "'cos most of that is shit," deadpans Hollis. "It's only radical in the modern context. It's not radical compared to what was happening 20 years ago. If we'd have delivered this album to the record company 20 years ago they wouldn't have batted an eyelid."
Would you recommend any particular situation in which to listen to it?
"Late at night definitely. In a very calm mood with no distractions."
You don't think it would make rather pleasant background music at, say, a dinner party?
"No I don't. Maybe after the dinner party. But you have to give it all your attention. You should never listen to music as background music. Ever."
Talk Talk's original plan of action was not to release a single or a video from the album. Neither did they intend to tour. Although they still won't be playing live, ("People would just want to hear the songs as they are on the album and for me that's not satisfying enough," Hollis frowns) they have since reconsidered, with a little record company pressure, and edited the track I Believe In You down to airplay length.
"It's purely in order to help the record company promote this album," says Hollis. "Purely that." He has also, now, recorded a promotional video to accompany the single.
"I really feel that was a massive mistake." he grimaces. "I thought just by sitting there and listening and really thinking about what it was about, I could get that in my eyes. But you cannot do it. It just feels stupid. It was depressing and I wish I'd never done it."
"See," he spits, "that's what happens when you compromise."