Laughing Stock is a very rare creation indeed, one that doesn’t ask us to dance, or rock, or groove, or tap our feet, or appreciate its technical wizardry or marvel at its songwriting. It doesn’t even demand that we understand the message that it brings, or why. It merely is, and it presents to us a vision of an unsullied beauty, and encompasses the rollercoaster that is life. By this, their final album, Talk Talk were not so much mere musicians as enlighteners, who understood that music was more than a means of expression, it was a gateway to one’s soul, their very soul. Laughing Stock exudes this understanding on all levels, in quiet musings, in bursts of frenzy, in gentle, soothing passages of a pastoral, meditative wonder. Lyrics are stark and Hemingway-esque in their minimalism, painting fragmented pictures, a suggestion of a story without being fleshed out, leaving the important parts behind languid guitars and a rich tapestry of stirring, orchestrated sound. It’s quite simply poetry to music. Song titles like After the Flood and New Grass indicate the healing, restorative power of the music, suggested through titles and lyrics, recalling Christianity by way of metaphor and symbolization.
How like our lives this music is – fragmented, disjointed, with a fervent memory of the moments of extreme passions, and the mundane and disappointing given no room for a second thought. Oh there is disappointment of course, disappointment and deep pain, an aching, primal longing for knowledge and God and security and love and enlightenment, but such longings in this context are far from mundane, oh no. It’s these longings that strive us to action, call us to change, to have the courage to face up to the unknown and uncertain. To have lived truly is to have experienced the bad along with the good. Laughing Stock embraces all that is uncertain, all that is joyous, love-affirming, love-worthy, philosophical and pure and simply presents it back to you. It doesn’t need any explanation – you’ve lived it. If you’ve lived your life fully, you can empathize. It takes a few listens to sink in, to truly appreciate the all-encompassing nature of the record, but when you get it, it’s a redemptive blessing. It’s a music that needs no explanation, because to explain it would be to miss the point.
A while ago I had a particular conversation that I remember very well. I mentioned something to which the other party responded: “Life’s not that cinematic.” That’s mostly true. Of course not every minute of every day is cinematic. We’ll forget about probably 90% of our days on earth by the end of our lives, and for the most part they are non-eventful, simply passing the time, doing nothing of lasting importance or that is likely to leave a deep impression on your own life or anybody else’s. And they aren’t like cinema because cinema is designed to entertain; we view 90+ minutes of what is essentially “life-highlights,” exciting and funny adventures, exercises in escapism. Of course life isn’t that cinematic all the time, because life and cinema are incomparable. But there are fleeting moments when life is that cinematic, the stars align, you reach an epiphany, you say something you never dreamed you would be capable of saying, you’re driven to do things by an unconscious impulse that defies understanding. Life has its cinematic moments, and in those moments, wonderful things can happen. And I say this because it’s exactly how I feel when I hear New Grass. I don’t enjoy picking highlights, but sometimes it becomes a necessity. And New Grass deserves to be mentioned for its unparalleled beauty and cinematic feel. Listening to it, I feel awash in its haze of languid, melancholy guitar, achingly beautiful piano chords, my worries pacified by temperate jazz drumming, Hollis’ soothing, peaceful vocals sending my mind far away, to a silent valley of green, covered in a sheet of snow. As I look out at the mountains, surrounded on all sides by nothing but this pocket of nature, life and all its turmoil suddenly seems very small indeed. My life is mine to live, and it defines me, but life on this world will go on long after me, and you, and everybody you know. New passages of history will be written, leaders will emerge greater than the world has yet seen, diseases will be eradicated, millions upon millions of couples will fall in love, and the world will trundle along as it has for so long. There is something quite amazing about that, and it’s the feeling that New Grass, nay, this whole album, makes me think about. It’s cinematic in its scope and its touching evocation of human passions, and just listening to it makes life feel that cinematic. As Talk Talk themselves said, earlier in their career, life’s what you make it. Laughing Stock is here to try and help you make it a good one, and to make sure you don’t miss those cinematic moments that make life so special.
Words – Adam.