Hardly five years had elapsed after Talk Talk's prominence as a high-haired video wonder, before the band lapsed into what some circles regarded as a backslide from their earlier pop success. Their biggest hit, "It's My Life," a visual mix of animation and live action, was innovative only to the MTV crowd. Its softly petulant refrain was more plaintive than rebellious, insuring that the song would never rise to the anthemic proportions of its rougher contemporaries, Billy Idol and Dead Or Alive.

But in 1988, the band's pop treacle had matured and transformed into honey. By that time the group was a duo: Mark Hollis and Tim Friese-Green. The six-song meditation Spirit Of Eden was curiously anti-pop. Eschewing hooks and lengthening their songs by half, leader Mark Hollis' vocals were almost indecipherable. The song lyrics were included, but they were hand written, almost cryptic.

With 1991's Laughing Stock, the duo's bent was obviously a religious one. The album repeated the six-song format of its predecessor, and the cryptic delivery of Hollis' vocals turned mystic. It's a haunting work; lilting, at times sparse, and always contemplative. The album is rock--as shown by the keening feedback of its guitars--but Laughing Stock is rock for ascetics and hermits. It's the last studio work for the group, although its adherents will be pleased to know that Hollis released a critically acclaimed, import-only solo CD last year. A live disc from their last concert is currently available (also import only).