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Mark Hollis : Mark Hollis/I>

REVIEW: Mark Hollis: Mark Hollis
3.9.2002 by Sean

Mark Hollis: Mark Hollis [Polydor, 1998]

Two words? Quiet flower.

This album fell into my hands unexpectedly, with much skepticism. I had no idea what to expect from a solo-release by the former lead singer of the eighties hair-band Talk Talk.

But it wasn't this.

Mark Hollis is a collection of eight compositions that drift from minimalist acoustic folk to avant-garde jazz and the quieter side of orchestral pop. Hollis' voice is soft and yearning; his half-muttered phrases drift in and out of the album's consciousness, fragments rising into recognition even as they fade away into spirals of oboe, upright-bass and acoustic guitar. "The Gift" is a wonderful opener to the disc, leaving Hollis to deliver his song over a simple, echoing piano line. The music is affecting by its very nature - the chamber music of a dream - and the slowness with which it proceeds sustains an acheing contrast with bustle and hurry of most pop music.

"Watershed" folds out some of the disc's light-touched jazz tendencies - the occasional cleansing spray of brassy trumpet overwhelming the near-inaudible woodwind core. "Inside Looking Out" is almost wholly instrumental, as with several other tracks, its careful pace recalling Feldman or my imaginings of Nick Drake's depression. "A New Jerusalem" closes the album with an ambiguity that equals the opening: Hollis' plaintive cries, laid gently over guitar strums and piano chords, rises and then falls into a sad, clarinet fade, knocked by the occasional piano dissonance.

If Mark Hollis has one flaw, it is that it works so entirely as a whole: no songs can be stripped away for mix tapes or an early-morning, five-minute hit. The album is so ghostly it almost doesn't exist at all, and a fragment leaves the taste of a flavour forgotten. Like James Molina crossed with The Rite of Spring, Mark Hollis' disc is haunting and absolutely, outstandingly original.

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