MARK HOLLIS Mark Hollis (Polydor)

‘Formerly of Talk Talk’, says the little sticker on the top corner of the case. What it should say, of course, is ‘Formerly of Talk Talk, the seminal 80s band who cast off the shackles of being marketed by the dolts at EMI as the new Duran Duran to become free-form avant garde psychedelicists blending together the best bits of The Blue Nile, Van Morrison circa "Astral Weeks" and Miles Davis around the time of "In A Silent Way"’.

But Mark Hollis is not the kind of musician interested that kind of cheap self-publicity. If he were he wouldn’t have followed the bona top ten success of Talk Talk’s magnificent "The Colour Of Spring" with two albums of mesmerising, rambling, formless and longggg songs pieced together from hundreds of hours of studio improvisation. He wouldn’t have taken seven years off following the amicable crumbling of his former band to relearn musical notation. And he certainly wouldn’t be seen flinging around phrases such as ‘geography of sound’ in an NME interview.

So then...what does his first solo album sound like? Well, quiet, mainly: it’s a not obese 47 minutes long, and the first twenty seconds and the last minute and a half consist of complete and utter silence. Bookended between these are eight songs, recorded on but two microphones, using predominately acoustic instrumentation, slowly uncoiling, fractured melodies with portentous titles like "A Life (1895 - 1915)" and "A New Jerusalem". You can hear his breathing between phrases, the creak of instruments and chairs during songs, making the album almost scarily intimate - this is not really the sort of music you want to be on first name terms with. Think of the bastard offspring of Talk Talk’s final ascent towards perfection that was their "Laughing Stock" album and Scott Walker’s astonishing "Tilt", played acoustically by the ghosts of the Tindersticks and you’ll be on your way to imagining the scale and, well, horror, of the solo Mark Hollis experience. The use of not-strictly-rock’n’roll instrumentation such as bassoons, cor anglais and Mark Feltham’s harmonica work, alternately fluttering and jabbing, doesn’t exactly make this an easy beastie to listen to.

I really can’t tell whether I like this album yet. I know that by rights I should, because, as anybody whose life has been touched by the last two or three Talk Talk albums will concur, Mark Hollis is a genius. I’ve been playing it a great deal as well - it was practically welded into my PC at work for a fortnight. But something’s not quite right, not yet at least. Whereas "Spirit Of Eden" and "Laughing Stock" had some kind of essentially comforting message at the root of their swirling psychedelia, "Mark Hollis" is, like the Kirstin Hersh album, real hairshirt stuff, and yes, it too feels a bit like "Pink Moon" with all the happy bits taken out. Judgement deferred, but even so I wouldn’t hear a word said against it, even if that word be mine.

Talk Talk