Laughing Stock is the fifth and final studio album by Talk Talk Released in 1991, it was the only album the band released on the jazz -based Verve Records.
There are many remarkable aspects to the story of Talk Talk’s fifth and final album, Laughing Stock. It took a year to make, and most of what was put to tape ended up on the scrapheap. In London’s Wessex Studios, where it was recorded, windows were blacked out, clocks removed, and light sources limited to oil projectors and strobe lights. Around fifty musicians contributed to its making, but only eighteen ended up on the finished album. It was a commercial failure, critically reviled as much as it was praised, and was impossible to perform live. Then the band broke up, forcing fans to wait seven years before its central protagonist released any new music, something followed by almost complete silence. Laughing Stock is also shrouded in mystery: apart from limited comments made during brief bursts of promotional activity to promote their own even more limited work since, the three authors of the record – Mark Hollis (songwriter and founder), Tim Friese-Greene (producer and co-songwriter since their third album, The Colour Of Spring) and Lee Harris (drums, and the only other remaining member of the band’s original line up by the time of Laughing Stock) – have refused to discuss it for years. But the music remains, its reputation growing with each passing year since its release two decades ago: stark, bold, indefinable and the greatest testament to the band.
What’s even more remarkable, however, is the legend that has grown alongside its reputation, best summarised by Alan McGee in a blog written for The Guardian in 2008. “I find the whole story of one man against the system in a bid to maintain creative control incredibly heartening,” he wrote of Talk Talk’s central pillar, Mark Hollis. It’s a popular opinion, reflective of the fashionable belief that the exploitation of corporate powers for the sake of art is a laudable act. Everyone loves David and Goliath-style tales of the little man taking on the giant and winning, and those who care deeply about music recognise in Talk Talk’s story the triumph of art over commerce. In every note and every second of silence in their final two records lies the sound of a man who refused to compromise and took perfectionism to an extreme. The fact that Spirit Of Eden, their fourth album from 1988, and Laughing Stock, 1991’s grand finale, stiffed – relative to 1986’s world-conquering The Colour Of Spring, at least – means nothing alongside their artistic accomplishment and the fact that so many people talk about them in tones of hushed reverence. The record labels, the prevailing wisdom goes, were at fault: they didn’t have the imagination and intellect to recognise these albums were works of genius.