Mark Hollis, frontman of the ‘80s-era British group Talk Talk, has died, his former manager confirmed to the BBC. He was 64. While news of his passing was widely reported on Monday, Hollis had retired from the music business after releasing a solo album in 1998 and it was some hours before his death was confirmed.
“Sadly it’s true,” Keith Aspden said. “Mark has died after a short illness from which he never recovered.”
While the group initially made its mark as a synth-pop act and enjoyed hits like “It’s So Serious” and “It’s My Life,” Hollis changed the group’s direction in 1987 with the largely acoustic, ambient-leaning “Colour of Spring,” which was largely met with confusion at the time but has since been embraced as a classic by the Pitchfork generation, inspiring later work by Radiohead, Sigur Ros and others, as well as more recent groups like Lo Moon.
Hollis was born in London and was the younger brother of Ed Hollis, a DJ, manager and producer who worked with punk-era bands including Eddie and the Hot Rods. The younger Hollis formed a group called the Reaction that released a song called “Talk Talk Talk Talk”; although that group disbanded, the song provided inspiration for the next group Hollis formed with the help of his brother, Talk Talk. The group signed with EMI and released its debut album, “The Party’s Over,” the following year. The group, led by Hollis’ reedy vocals and strong melodies, was embraced by MTV and opened a major North American tour for Elvis Costello that summer.
The group united with producer/keyboardist Tim Friese-Greene for its next and most commercially successful album, “It’s My Life,” which produced hit singles in the title track (which was covered by No Doubt in 2003) and “Such a Shame.”
The group abandoned synthpop with its subsequent album “Colour of Spring,” which produced the global hit “Life’s What You Make It.” Yet the following album, 1988’s “Spirit of Eden,” was a quiet, at-times improvised collection of songs that reflected Hollis’ gradual withdrawal from touring and the trappings of pop success. While a critical and commercial success — albeit not on the level of the group’s previous outings — the album was met with confusion by fans and particularly EMI, and the group engaged in a legal battle with the label that ate up much of the next couple of years. By 1990, the group — at this point just Hollis and Friese-Greene — released a new album on Polydor called “Laughing Stock,” but disbanded two years later. Hollis released a self-titled solo album in 1998 that was along the same lines of his two previous efforts, and retired from music not long after.
Yet the influence of his work, particularly “Colour of Spring,” grew exponentially over the years. An influence on the atmospheric work from Radiohead, Sigur Ros, Mogwai and others, the album was recently re-reviewed by Pitchfork and given an almost unheard-of 10 out of 10 rating.
As news of Hollis’ death spread on Monday, tributes from friends, colleagues and fans like Duran Duran The The’s Matt Johnson and Adele producer Paul Epworth poured in.