B&W2

“Maybe when the heat’s away you’re fine
To put another drink away is out of line, out of line”

When Talk Talk went into studio to record their second album, they did so in the knowledge that they would inevitably garner the same damning feedback which they so stoically received for their first affair, “The Party’s Over”. 

“On pain of being a member of Talk Talk!  The starched shirts, the meaningful expressions, the dry ice, the anguish, the adenoids, not to mention the snide reviews!” [Smash Hits, 17th March, 1983]

Originally given the title “The Chameleon Hour”, “It’s my Life”, recorded over the course of 1983, and, released by EMI in 1984, benefitted from several changes:- in personnel, instrumentation and musical direction.  Keyboard player Simon Brenner was despatched, duties being transferred to the now legendary Phil Ramacon (songwriter//producer); guitars & acoustic piano were in, and so was funk ‘n jazz.

“We’re introducing a lot of different things … (we) put on a bit of guitar today … although it’s only feedback.  The first album was 90% synth, but now we’re covering a lot of new ground – lots of acoustic piano, fretless bass, using the jazz side of more openly.  In a lot of ways it’s as simple as the early stuff was, but there’s just a bit more variation happening, you can hear what all the instruments are trying to do, instead of having a wall of sound”. “What we are doing on the new album is not to use chords to block things, but instead give everything a lot more room to develop”.[Mark Hollis]

1984

“So easy with a thief to blame, for breaking every pledge I’ve made
Does it matter if I can’t say, Caroline knows”

Track 8 on “It’s my Life” EMI 1984, is the song “Does Caroline Know”.

Fluid, slick and sophisticated, it is a far remove from their “post-punk” sound of 1982.  More resonant of Otis Redding, a huge Hollis musical influence, the soulful dynamic is clearly evident between the sad overtones of Hollis voice and Webb’s  multifaceted, exquisite basslines. It is the percussion driven rhythm section that is fundamental to this song’s success. Intricate, clever percussion underpins the sound, which is overlaid with sweeping, twisting, melodic synth of Tim Friese-Greene, a new addition to the Talk Talk studio line up, who was to become Hollis’ song-writing collaborator and a significant contributor to the future development of the band’s musical style.

Sample 1 – “Does Caroline Know”Taken from Talk Talk Live in Montreux, July 1984.

“Out in the street today
We’re parading around
We’re the height of the fashion
And she laughs ‘cos we look the same
And follow all of the rule”

The above sample opened with this  snippet from another Talk Talk song – “Mirror Man”, which leads us nicely into this review by the Record Mirror, written by someone purporting to be a music journalist.

Record Mirror: 25th February 1984 (Unaccredited)

“Talk Talk are probably really nice geezers. Like a drink, good to their mums, maybe even go to football. Good blokes. EMI like ‘em too. Because they can play their instruments and they comb their hair and they write songs with a smattering of tune and they write words that say precisely nothing. EMI must like ‘em – look, they’ve let ‘em make another record. Another record to go with the Private Lives records and the Re-Flex records that EMI seems to bloody adept at excreting on Mr Pop Punter.

But that’s not to say Talk Talk are rubbish. Talk Talk aren’t rubbish. Talk Talk are just crushingly, excruciatingly average. There is absolutely nothing to distinguish them. No edge. No identity. Talk Talk are Duran without the lust for success, Roxy without the sloe-eyed style, Tears for Fears without the suicidal touch. But gloomy they are! ‘It’s my Life’ is just one long negative river of regret, a gluttony of guilt, a tribute to torpor. When Mark Hollis gets emphatic, as on the title track or broody in ‘Such as Shame’ or kooky in ‘Call in the Night Boy’ the reaction is always the same. Shuddup bore! I’ll never listen to It’s my Life again.”

Its my life

The difficulty I have with the above review is that the reviewer (who was reviewing the full album) is clearly incorrectly comparing Talk Talk with bands with whom they have absolutely nothing in common.  Too often have they been inaccurately considered in the same breath as Duran Duran – different sound, different image, different MO, and, likened to Roxy – all down to Hollis’ similar posturing on stage (there are a raft of other comparisons including Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Soft Cell, Fergal Sharkey, the list is endless!).

Alluring alliteration I think not.  Cynically smug, morelike.  The reviewer misses the point of “Such a Shame”, the excellence of “Tomorrow Started” and chooses to completely ignore the shift in musical gear which the album takes, and the move towards musical maturity of which it is indicative.

Sample 2- “Does Caroline Know”Taken from Rotterdam Live September 1984.

“Every little accident takes time
Forget about mistakes I’ve made they’re left behind, left behind”

The live performances of “Does Caroline Know” have these long piano driven, orchestral-like, instrumental sections, which the studio version doesn’t have (the original is 4.31, the live performances are averaging over 8 minutes).

In fact, the studio version doesn’t contain any acoustic piano – it’s all whining synth playing over a light-touch percussive backbeat and funked up,looping bassline.  It is a much simpler, less melodramatic affair than it’s live counterparts; much more electronic in sound than the elaborate, high level arrangements of the lives.  Doffing of hat to Ian Curnow for conceiving of an amazing synth produced ‘electric guitar’ solo.  “Rockin'” .  Who said Talk Talk didn’t have an edge?

It is with the studio version, that this musical journey comes to an end.   Lyrics below, as always.

And as for Caroline, who is she and what does she know?  Well, you’re going to have to ask the elusive Mr Hollis that one  Good luck with that then!!

“So easy with a thief to blame, for breaking every pledge I’ve made
Does it matter if I can’t say, Caroline knows, Caroline knows”

TALK TALK – “DOES CAROLINE KNOW”  1984  (from the album “It’s my Life”, not released as a single).

Maybe when the heat’s away you’re fine
To put another drink away is out of line, out of line

So easy with a thief to blame, for breaking every pledge I’ve made
Does it matter if I can’t say, Caroline knows

Every little accident takes time
Forget about mistakes I’ve made they’re left behind, left behind

So easy with a thief to blame, for breaking every pledge I’ve made
Does it matter if I can’t say, Caroline knows, Caroline knows

So easy with a thief to blame, for breaking every pledge I’ve made
Does it matter if I can’t say, does it matter if I can’t say, Caroline knows

Songwriters
HOLLIS, MARK DAVID

Published by
Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

“IT’S MY LIFE” ARTWORK BY JAMES MARSH.

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4 thoughts on “Hey Mr Mirror Man, “Does Caroline Know?”

  1. The album version of Does Caroline Know? for me was always a song a little out of place. Within all respect, it sounds a bit like a piece of music that within itself was searching for what it could be. Like it was on one side wanted to sound like an experimental synthesizer song with strange beeps and bleebs, and on the other side a masterpiece song with a strong organic and sensitive underlayer.

    When I heard it as the live Montraux Jazz Festival version on the B side of the 12″ to I Don’t Believe In You, I was just blown away. In this arrangement the song just sounded sublime and perfect. (And in my opinion the best live version of the song).
    I’ve heard this song in the summer and I had this strong association an imagine how the concert must have been. Me on a bike my ‘Hollis’ glasses on, music through my walkman. Going trough the countryside in warm high summer, smelling the hay

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  2. … This feeling got the song to high levels that could be like Nirvana and heaven paradise into one.
    everything just sounded so perfect. Specialy this Synthesizer melodie driven short pitched cords, a wonderfull piano part, and a guitarsolo to top it all to a sublime bliss.

    Only years later I saw the video of the concert, and it was a dark hall and Mark Hollis just drinking a little to much to cope with it all.
    And most shocking: the guitar solo wasn’t an electric guitar at all. Even more respect to Ian Curnow to get this masterpiece out of his synthesizer hooked to an guitar distortion amplifier.

    would that not lead to an big secret to the Talk Talk album The Colour Of Spring, where acclaimed all synthesizer where band?
    Not only were drum samples used to get percussion parts that no human being ever could perform (although hours of hours of recording Lee Harris drums to get many samples, even perfect fault ones). But also the magical electric guitar solo’s from I Don’t Believe In You and Give It Up came from Ian’s synthesizer. Although credited as Instrumental 🙂

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    1. That doesn’t make sense – why would you credit something as instrumental when they came from a synth – or was this down to the fact that Hollis was trying to detach the band from the rest of the electronic synth based bands of the time like Mode etc?
      Ian certainly had some fun playing his “not the guitar” – I’d better edit my blog so and remove mention of the guitar solo – see I told you this would happen! And it did, less than 24 hours later!!

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