I was listening to this week’s ‘Discover Weekly’ playlist on Spotify and on came ‘Happiness is Easy’, by Talk Talk. I hadn’t heard that song in ages and wanted to know what he was singing about?
Was Mark Hollis being sarcastic? Was happiness really that easy? Or was it something much deeper than that?
The opening track of their 1986 album, the track starts with a sparse drum sound before building in the melody and finally the lyrics,
“Makes you feel much older, sublime the blind parade
It wrecks me how they justify their acts of war, they assemble, they pray”
In these opening lines writers Mark Hollis and Timothy Friese-Greene are voicing a frustration on war and how religion can be used to justify or condone decisions made by others.
With the chorus comes the angelic voices of the local schoolchildren echoing the religious justifications made for war,
“Happiness is easy
(Joy be written on the Earth)
(And the sky above)
(Jesus, star that shines so bright)
(Gather us in love)”
It is in the third verse we start to get to the crux of this song. How can we teach our children that war can be justified through the cause of religion or condoned by religious gathering.
“Try to teach my children
To recognise excuse before it acts
From love and conviction to prayTake good care of what the priests say:
“After death it’s so much fun”
Little sheep, don’t let your feet stray”
Are we now saying that death can also be justified by the same actions?
The album was released in 1986, four years after the Falklands War, as Mark Hollis was starting a family. Could the impact of a war, and his fear of the future be the reasons for writing such a powerful song?
For a long time, I only new it as one of the final tracks on their greatest hits album, ‘Natural History’, a CD I played to death as a teenager.
Only about 12 years ago did I discover the album it comes from, ‘Colour of Spring’ . I’d known about Talk Talk for a long time, I had their album ‘The Party’s Over’ on cassette but for some reason I’d never chased them down the rabbit hole.
But then I finally played the album and I was off down that rabbit hole of melancholy and introspection. The album opens with ‘Happiness is Easy’ which could be labelled a ‘depressing’ song and goes deeper from there.
It envelops like a comfort blanket of sound that makes you feel safe to be introspective and quiet for a brief 45 minutes. The second track, “I don’t believe in you” keeps you on that path into the rabbit hole as the album briefly pulls you back with ‘poppier’ numbers like ‘Life’s What You Make It’ and ‘Living In Another World’ before signing off with ‘Time It’s Time’ another mildly upbeat track that’s equally gloomy.
Writing this forced me to read the lyrics to some of their tracks. It struck me as odd, because I usually always read the lyrics of my favourite tracks but for some reason I hadn’t. Maybe the whole atmosphere of the album is what I crave, not the meaning of lyrics this time.
At 45 minutes, it is over before you realise you’ve been list in there for just a little while. Like a drug, I guess, when you get to the end and there is only one thing for it. Play it from the again start and stay in the warm comfort of melancholy.
You may change the definitions of ‘depressing’ and ‘melancholy’ to something more fitting but sometimes it is nice to be quiet and introspective. A little ‘me time’ doesn’t mean there is anything wrong and ‘The Colour of Spring’ is the perfect accompaniment.
I’m off down the rabbit hole…
With thanks to the excellent Snow in Berlin to help with some perspective on Hollis and Talk Talk.