Friday Song: “Living in Another World”

Suffused with intellectualism, the song seems ever more relevant today

Friday Song: “Living in Another World”

Mark Hollis, the main songwriter and performer at the heart of the 1980s band Talk Talk, was a gem. Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon called him “one of music’s great innovators.” Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp said, “His influence upon music was immense and far reaching.”

Hollis died in 2019 at the age of 64 after a brief illness. He retired from music in 1998 to focus on his family and personal life, saying, “I can’t go on tour and be a good dad at the same time.”

Talk Talk formed in 1981 and lasted a decade, producing hits like the eponymous “Talk Talk,” “It’s My Life,” “Such a Shame,” and “Life Is What You Make It.”

“Living in Another World” was released in 1986, and was more popular in Europe than in America. However, it always stops me in my tracks if it comes on the radio or plays in a public space. I’m not alone in appreciating its long-term appeal, with one musician stating its endless draw this way:

I never tire of [the song], and yet I don’t quite understand how they managed to make it sound like a musical version of that famous Escher staircase.

In constructing the song, Hollis was inspired by the modal jazz of Miles Davis, and said the works of Jean-Paul Sartre inspired the lyrics.

Miles Davis, Sartre, and Escher — that’s a lot to pack into a four-minute pop song.

Written in A minor with a chugging tempo of 111 bpm, the song features Steve Winwood’s searing Hammond organ, a major injection of musical muscle into a tune that features powerful and occasionally dissonant piano, intriguing percussion, nice bass fills, and superb singing, orchestration, and overall production. The cuts to the spinning Leslie in the video are fun, and the band apparently had fun filming it.

Hollis possessed a full, ageless voice, and his singing on this song is evocative and pained. Along with the organ, his voice suffuses the song with angst and longing. The harmonica brings the blues.

Enjoy one of Hollis’ and Talk Talk’s finest works.


This week, subscribers received a series about techno-utopianism and its mixed, and now failing, legacy in scholarship and science. If you’re considering a subscription, here’s what you missed:

Monday —> Part 1 — Beyond Techno-utopianism

Tuesday —> Part 2 — Edging Away from Utopianism

Wednesday —> Part 3 — Swiss Cheddar

Thursday —> Part 4 — Strange Bedfellows

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