A lesson in ‘Why?’ from the world of pop.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Talk Talk recently.

I’m fascinated by that rarest of things…an entity which knows when it is time to stop.

Talk Talk’s clutch of intelligent synthpop tunes made EMI think they were on to a winner. Had they found a new Duran-Duran-a-like band to churn out radio friendly singles whilst adorning the walls of  the nation’s teenage bedrooms with Smash Hits pull out posters?

It seemed that way for a while. The eponymous track from their first 1982 album ‘The Party’s Over’ was a modest hit.

‘Such a Shame’ from their second 1984 album ‘It’s My Life’ did even better….it was a hit across Europe even reaching number one in Switzerland.

The 1986 album ‘The Colour of Spring’ suggested every record company’s dream – a band making the transition from hit singles to adult friendly albums with stadium tours and longevity to match. The album reached number 8 in the UK and even spawned a few minor hits.

But the band wasn’t about to sell its soul just to attract more fans and make more cash. Their most famous concert wasn’t at Hyde Park or Wembley Stadium…but the rather more left field Montreux Jazz Festival.

The release of 1988’s ‘Spirit of Eden’ took the band well out of the popular music mainstream. It was filled with quiet, 9 minute ‘songs’ with barely audible lyrics assembled in the studio from lengthy improvisations and experimentation. There were no proper singles and no live concerts to boost album sales. Relations with EMI broke down and ended in the court room.

There was a three year wait until the fifth and final Talk Talk album ‘Laughing Stock’. It was an even more sparse and ‘unpop’ affair. The band’s media profile had shrunk to almost nothing by this point and band members started to drift off too. In 1992 they called it a day.

There was a solo album from front man Mark Hollis six years later; which if anything has an even less imposing presence than ‘Laughing Stock’…when I listen to this album I sometimes think the CD player has stopped it’s so quiet for so long.

Then that was that. No new Talk Talk material, no more Mark Hollis material. Just silence.

A book came out in 2012 but none of the band would even be interviewed for it.

They haven’t put out a ‘Best Of’ album (featuring one new song) just before Christmas.

They haven’t reformed for a farewell tour of the States.

They’d done what they set out to do; said what they had to say; and then quietly drawn things to a dignified close.

Too many social businesses look more like a typical pop group.

Many pop groups start out with a few interesting musical ideas; have a breakthrough with a slightly blander/safer version of what made them interesting; and then repeat the formula ad nauseam…with ever diminishing creative returns (and a growing bank balance).

Many social businesses are formed out of a passion to help make the world a better place. If they are lucky they have a great idea that can really make a difference; really help solve a problem. But they convince themselves they could do more. There must be more people they could help. If only they could secure more funding, bigger grants, source more people in need of their service. Before they know it they have an infrastructure that needs clients to ensure the cash keeps rolling in so they start to broaden their scope and extend their offer.

The risk is that they lose sight of their original aim and start to become part of the problem…characterising more and more people as needing their service as they seek to continue to grow and consolidate as an organisation.

It’s a hard thing for any of us in the social sector to accept but in an ideal world most of our services, most of our organisations, simply wouldn’t exist.




2 responses to “A lesson in ‘Why?’ from the world of pop.

  1. Blimey John this takes me right back – I used to love Eden and Laughing Stock though I’ll admit I’ve not listened to them for an age.

    Really intriguing points about knowing when to stop that could be applied far outside music.

    Thanks for giving me some stuff to revisit/seek out this weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do enjoy every stage of their musical journey but probably the Mark Hollis solo album is my go to album at the moment.

      I think they symbolise that built in obsolescence idea we’ve been bouncing around. Do what you set out to do then stop.


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