Tears for Fears: Before and After Love
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CHANGE OF SEASON
In early 1983, unaware of Mad World which I had missed through the vortex of global relocation (from NZ back to the UK), my first meeting with Tears for Fears came with Change; an energetic marimba driven song with lyrics both cool as they are obscure: ‘You walked in to the room, I just had to laugh, The face you wore was cool, You were a photograph.’ Change carried enough youthful fizz to reach the higher echelons of the charts.
A top 40 brimming with hits such as Blancmange’s Waves, Kissing the Pink’s Last Film, Depeche Mode’s Get the Balance Right, China Crisis mellow ballad Christian and incredibly ICEHOUSE whose Hey Little Girl would be their only time in the UK top 20 – also unbelievable when you consider they were the only Australian band likely to shift units in the UK and they might have done on another label, but that we will never know.
It was a UK slowly awaking from its alien nation phase; trading new romance and car crash futures for optimism a la Belle Stars Sign of the Times, Spandau Ballet’s (soon to be) True, Duran’s Rio and The Smiths retrograde guitars lay around the corner too. But Tears for Fears were different, as dreamy and ‘English’ as Liverpool’s China Crisis operating from their southern base of Bath, yet more complex – brilliant rhythms constructed by drummer Manny Elias.
Following Change was, unknown to me at the time, a reissue of the similarly ‘English’ Pale Shelter which also climbed into the upper reaches of the top 40. Thus their debut album The Hurting became a highly sort after purchase. At the year’s end The Way You Are continued the run. The band hate it, the fans love it.
WELCOME TO THE BIG CHAIR
Onto 1984 and stopgap single Mothers Talk was to me a misstep. A so so excursion followed by the rocking Shout; a single near six minutes in duration and to some extent, another stopgap.
Both would appear on their next full length album (the now legendary) Songs From the Big Chair, sporting a simple black and white photo which had more in common with a sixties Simon and Garfunkel portrait shot than the snazzy mid-eighties of say Scritti Politti’s Cupid & Psyche ’85 or Duran off-shoot Arcadia.
The cassette featuring six extra tracks, – b-sides (Empire Building, The Big Chair) which were over produced and merely sound experiments. Better were The Marauders and The Conflict which would have been better on The Hurting in place of The Prisoner.
Big Chair purchased immediately on release and WOW! Classic nowadays is bandied around without much consideration but Big Chair is the real deal. Even Mothers Talk was better aided by an appendix where the track veers off completely into a new sonic terrain. The band were confident and cruising on all cylinders.
Side Two wasn’t short of substance either. Broken/Head Over Heels/Broken with Neil Taylor’s guitar was simply jaw dropping! As was the Neptunian Listen, originally an instrumental brewed by Ian Stanley with lyrics and layers added during recording including the finale vocal that sounds like ‘ooh I am a chicken let me cook myself!’
But this level of WOW came with serious side effects; how to follow it. But this level of WOW came with serious side effects. How to follow it.
‘We’re going to weird out like never before’ the duo confessed in Smash Hits early in ’86 and unfortunately for fans they weren’t kidding. In the same interview Roland Orzabal hinted at the Badman’s Song. Their ‘weird out’ would last almost half a decade.
OUR LIVES IN THE SUICIDE RANKS
Four years’ now is a breeze but back then it was an agonising endurance test just waiting for any sign of new material. In hindsight it must have felt like that for the band too with a series of failed attempts under different producers and the sad departure of Stanley (they have in my opinion never recovered from this, it is like Prince without Wendy and Lisa or Roxy without Eno).
From the non-album track My Life in the Suicide Ranks we can see Stanley was pitching them somewhere between Prince and The Blue Nile (who coincidentally reappeared the same year – 1989 – with their own masterpiece HATS) as well as another often played off-cut Always in the Past which couldn’t work or fit within the eight track margin set by Seeds of Love.
These two are from my missing album in the TFF discography and I’d love to hear what else they might have done with Stanley and/or Langer and Winstanley. Meanwhile Orzabal and Smith opted to produce themselves aided by industry stalwart Dave Bascombe. Still the wait for fans continued at a snails pace.
At a music charity dinner and auction the DJ Gary Davies cornered Curt Smith with a half joking ‘when!?’ But Smith would not be drawn ‘when what? He responded. ‘When does the dinner end?’ He added, again half jokingly. Another month another titbit from another DJ Bruno Brookes who hinted ‘new Tears for Fears album – best thing they have ever done.’
Clearly the album was doing the rounds on pre-release to gauge reaction. Brooke’s statement further exacerbating anticipation. Finally the band The Adventures release their second album The Sea of Love with a nod of gratitude to none other than Tears for Fears (whom they had supported during the Big Chair tour). I don’t know what TFF suggested but you can hear traces of the boys from Bath in many of the tracks on that album.
I LOVE A SUNFLOWER: THE BIRTH OF HIPPY COOL
August 1989. The first single ‘Sowing the Seeds of Love’ having grown from graffiti ‘I love a sunflower’ spotted near Orzabal’s home, is aired. Strangely I can’t remember who spun it or my reaction (not being a major Beatles fan) but I did go out and buy the 12” so it must have been ok. I like the intro and the fact that at last we had something tangible, something new.
There was also that mysterious quality with music that an artist’s hometown or origin somehow comes through in the sound especially between 1:45 and 2:05 and again with the strings on 2:24 – 2:29. In this case a regal majestic snapshot of Bath or its west country environs (possibly from a hot air balloon). Psycho-geography meets psycho-musicology?
The following month their third album The Seeds of Love finally hit the shelves. Again I opted for cassette. The album follows a similar structure to Big Chair in that the singles happened to be tracks 1, 3 and 4 and side 2 (vinyl and tape) utilised live or crowd noise from one of their shows on the aforementioned Big Chair tour.
The difference lie in the music’s organic warmth which they were striving for (in place of machines) both found and delivered via Oleta Adams. Culled from a much fabled Kansas City bar (though she was far from an overnight sensation as commonly believed) her big voice helps shape second single Woman in Chains, and adds soul and colour to Badman’s Song.
Interestingly the record company suggested Whitney Houston! Which as Roland recalls on the Rockonteurs podcast with Gary Kemp and Guy Pratt would have made commercial sense. All in all it’s all a far cry from The Hurting but somehow, through all the complexities of these songs, it worked very well with Oleta.
FAMOUS LAST WORDS?
Woman in Chains slow building drama, even with Adams on board, is nothing less than quintessential Tears for Fears and the much hinted at Badman’s Song turned out to be nothing less than astonishing! The gospel according to Roland at eight and a half minutes but never boring. One of my favorite Tears for Fears recordings and one I always come back to in reference of the above fact.
We (the listener) could now hear why it had taken so long to achieve the results heard on the record. Advice for the Young at Heart rounds off the first side and is in the vein of Todd Rundgren’s early seventies song I Saw The Light.
Tears for Fears took the hippy vibe and pleasantries and married it to a lavish eighties arrangement including harp. The melody, written with another key player Nicky Holland, is simply gorgeous – like candy floss for the ear!
Standing on the Corner of the Third World is I Believe’s ethnic cousin which for some reason features the smoky fretless of bass whizz Pino Palladino. This might seem an odd move for a band that has their own bass player in Smith so they obviously thought Palladino could add something Smith couldn’t. The piece is further accentuated by Jon Hassell’s woozy trumpet which beautifully decorates the eerie ethno jazz fusion on offer.
Swords and Knives, again very Tears for Fears, runs through many moods, complex layers and tempo shifts before joining Year of the Knife, another lengthy number ending with a crashing caress of drums much like a live performance. After all of that, the album closes with the subdued Famous Last Words.
Given a single release, it all but limped out without many knowing of it and hence stalled way down at a lowly 83. As strange as that might seem for the high flying band, I can’t say it was surprising. It was an album finale but no single.
THE START OF THE BREAKDOWN
And speaking of 83 what about the other acts from 1983, how did they fare during the rest of the eighties? Blancmange and the Belle Stars hit the commercial buffers in the mid eighties and China Crisis were struggling to remain relevant in a rapidly changing market. Their Diary of a Hollow Horse set indulged in further studies for daydreamers.
Lead single St Saviour Square being a wonderful highlight but dreamy in the late eighties was dangerous ground with an increasingly sidelined and ousted art crowd. Depeche Mode had bigger fish to fry with Personal Jesus precursing 1990’s acclaimed Violator while ICEHOUSE embraced the warmth of a more sympathetic US buying audience but by ’89 their Touch the Fire single crashed and burned (at least in America).
All things considered Tears for Fears steered the ship with masterful dexterity …up to a point. The Seeds of Love ironically kick starting the seeds of hate or to put it another way, the start of the breakdown.
The rift between Smith and Orzabal is common knowledge. I’ve nothing to add here other than the more confident Orzabal sings all but one of the SoL tracks compared to The Hurting where Smith handles five including all the singles (Mad World, Change and Pale Shelter as well as The Way You Are).
More sunflower imagery adorned the Tears Roll Down collection and its single, Laid So Low, a reworking of Sowing the Seeds b-side Tears Roll Down. The moody single pretty much said it all; ‘made a mess I guess I should’ve known, that life was lust and liberty.’
And so the journey beyond ‘Seeds’ lay in despair and disarray with Orzabal at the helm for Elemental and Raoul and the Kings of Spain. Both have their moments from Elemental’s title track to successful single Break it Down Again, Power and Goodnight Song.
However a shock lay in store for fans. Fish Out of Water is musically beautiful, if only he’d found a better subject to wrap its acidic lyrics around than a thinly veiled assault on Smith who duly responded via Sun King.
Both of these acts of musical tit-for-tat at least wiped the slate clean, a detox of two souls made aggressors by the very success they sought and succeeded in turned inwards and pitted two friends and musical brothers against each other. The creative and at times divisive Orzabal to the business and lifestyle minded Smith.
In a similar way to the calm Famous Last Words following the chaotic Year of the Knife on SoL, once again the storm erased to the serene with Oleta Adams making a welcome return on Raoul’s Me and My Big Ideas. Despite the (optional pun) conflict with Smith, Secrets, was a beautified ballad from the songbook of a gifted man.
Whilst I don’t think this song relates to Smith, the first verse is somewhat apt: ‘it seems we caused a forest fire, With just a flicker of a flame, And now I set alight to everything, Now all I do is cause you pain.’ Another single that might have been – this time the war between record labels and hence replaced by the reasonable rock of God’s Mistake.
The art school of Peter Gabriel’s more sombre moments colour Los Reyes Catolicos. But a Tears for Fears minus Smith’s knack for a chorus (Sowing the Seeds of Love) and balance to steady the ship through rough waters meant two patchy affairs. The new wave crashing into the shores of brit-pop.
NEW STARS: ORZABAL OUTSIDE AND THE SOLO SMITH
But great artists never die, they evolve. There was more to come from Orzabal, 2001’s dynamic Tomcats Screaming Outside (in all but name, the best TFF album since Seeds of Love). For me, it’s the ‘personal statement’ of Raoul and the Kings of Spain that should have sailed under the his own name.
Tomcats sound concentrated mainly on electronic rock such as lead single Low Life, or electro-world fusion for Hypnoculture which draws from his love of Bush of Ghosts era Eno.
Kill Love and Hey Andy dabble in drum and bass while Snowdrop evoked the same sort of enigmatic dreamscapes Simple Minds delivered at a time TFF were trying to understand a mad world. There were also misfires, the glam rock sounding Dandelion for one.
The saying goes Everybody Loves a Happy Ending and in music-land, most roads lead to reunion-ville. The duo met, felt awkward then got back to the studio at a time when I myself was living in of all places, Bath.
Unfortunately the results were more misguided than Mothers Talk, Elemental and Raoul. Had it been released in 1995 at the time of Brit-pop and a feint seventies revival then who knows? As it is, I’d quite like to hear it done by Tears for Fears. Back to the drawing board then.
Unlike Orzabal, Smith has continued to deliver a complicated discography comprising Mayfield and solo efforts (Aeroplane, Halfway Pleased on which Orzabal plays keyboards, albeit on one track and Deceptively Heavy).
The first solo album Soul on Board was issued in 1993 (the same year as Elemental). The title track is very slick with a host of session players appearing. Drummer Steve Ferrone, percussionist Paulinho De Costa as well as Neil Taylor and Colin Woore (of the Europeans) on guitars.
Calling Out was the first single which I quite liked at the time though it failed to chart. Beautiful to Me is pleasant but prattles on a bit to six and half minutes. The main difference with this album is it definitely got its sound palette from America yet wasn’t released there.
Onto Aeroplane then. Title track acoustic psychedelia, warmer especially on the chorus. Not sure about some of the lyrics though, ‘all I want is a wet dream, I scream’ wtf? What Are We Fighting For is very similar to Everybody Loves a Happy Ending – Beatlesque but a little more rocky as is Jasmine’s Taste. Mayfield/Aeroplane includes a Brit-pop version of Pale Shelter – don’t start me.
Snow Hill is a rather dreamy homage to his part of Bath (the place). I Don’t Want to be Around isn’t too bad either. 2013’s Deceptively Heavy wears its heart on its sleeve. A British Air Force red white and blue poundal, also utilised by The Who and fashion designer Ben Sherman’s clothes.
Suffer the Silence and My Point Being both have powerful chorus. Curt’s recently showed his hand on Break the Man but I’m not sure the female vocals work to be honest. All is Love would have been better without the Brit-pop middle eight.
Well Enough has the kind of lilting Englishness the Cocteau Twins were doing on Cico Buff and later work, save for the synth bagpipes. Heaven’s Sake tries to be a smart arse with time signature but Sting does it better.
As for Mannequin think Steven Wilson for the verses and then Uptown Funk for the chorus, it’s truly insane! As you might expect, all of these were very low-key compared to Tears for Fears and have alongside touring halted the flow of recording save for another ‘stopgap’ EP 2014’s Ready Boys and Girls, featuring the shimmering And I Was a Boy from School (again sung by Smith).
30 YEARS AFTER LOVE
30 years have elapsed since the Seeds of Love. Not surprising in an era of streaming the band have concentrated on touring. Even in recent times the imagery of the sunflower resonates as illustrated on the 2017 North American tour poster above.
Interestingly one tour was undertaken with Hall and Oates which makes sense when you consider both were huge during the first half of the eighties and both Oates and Smith are sometimes maligned to the unknowing, relegated to ‘cling ons’ which I don’t agree with. The records both bands have made would not be as great without the methodical input of Oates or Smith.
In 2020 The Seeds of Love was given a deluxe release (in keeping with the boxes for The Hurting and Songs From the Big Chair) there’s no less than 50 tracks and several versions of most of the original eight save Standing on the Corner of the Third World which only has one additional take from the Townhouse.
The early versions of Badman’s Song which I so looked forward to hearing are barely any different to the finished version. Most surprising to me was Advice for the Young at Heart slowing into the piano motif of Swords and Knives and Roland’s take on Rhythm of Life is really nice.
For the culturally curious, among those collected are US Radio Edits (Sowing and Woman), an Italian radio edit of Advice for the Young at Heart, a vocal and instrumental Canadian single mix of Year of the Knife, a French radio edit of Famous Last Words, early and alternate mixes, demos and six tracks from the Townhouse live jam sessions.
As regards new material, even in the age of the internet, the band remain mysterious hinting that one track is like Queen and the last time they hinted at something it was the Badman’s Song. If the material is of that standard I’ll be more than happy with the results.
Seventeen years in the making (enough for four Seeds of Love’s!) two tracks appeared on compilation Rule the World; I Love You But I’m Lost and Stay both much more in keeping with what the Tears for Fears of yore are capable of and then finally the rumours were confirmed.
REACHING THE TIPPING POINT
The title The Tipping Point has been circulating for a while but in early October 2021 we got the first fruit in the title track and the album cover – both of a good standard, the title track bearing a shuffle not unlike Everybody Wants to Rule the World though coupled by a more arid and macabre tone.
The 10 track album was eventually issued on February 25th 2022 – exactly 37 years since The Big Chair and it’s not the only similarity – the world on tenterhooks, a new cold war. So is it any good. To some it’s a masterpiece, I don’t think it is.
If ever there was a band who should have quit after three albums Tears for Fears are it. They manage to go from cool new wave to rock to hippy soul without compromising the TFF ear for candy sweet melody and bitter sweet lyrics.
What’s clear with Tipping Point is that the two Roland albums of the nineties would probably have been no different even had Curt been involved. They have been lack lustre ever since, however, that’s not to say Tipping Point has no merit.
Politically it’s bang on the money, ‘freedom is no small thing’ sings Orzabal to a black and white video featuring the famous shot of a man standing in front of tanks in Tiananmen Square and how could anyone have known of the events of February 2022 when recording this album, a Tipping Point in world events not seen since 1989 or the nineties Balkan conflict.
If nature is an invisible member of a-ha, then conflict – military and mental – is not too far away from the minds of Orzabal and Smith. The Conflict, War of Attrition, Year of the Knife, Gas Giants, Killing with Kindness, Last Days on Earth.
The title track, Break the Man and Rivers of Mercy are immediate but like a James Bond film shows its neat tricks in a trailer, TP had already shown its strongest hand prior to its release date, save for Mercy.
My Demons and End of Night are cheesy synth rock – a little like Scritti Politti’s A Day Late and a Dollar Short (if you like that kind of thing you’ll love these two). Master Plan is another nod to The Beatles although at least like Sowing the Seeds of Love there is enough Tears for Fears in its musical DNA to carry it, a nice backwards flowing guitar effect around the 1:40 mark.
A Long, Long, Long Time is modern in much the same way that Duran Duran’s Astronaut was with the addition of electronic effects akin to the stock muzak you get on many travel blogger videos – TFF does Cafe del You Tube. This spills over into the intro of Please Be Happy which is my fourth favourite and as well noted about Orzabal’s late wife Caroline.
Shame is a decent bonus track – I’d rather it had been on the album but the other two Secret Location and Let it All Evolve do little for me. Where does it rank in terms of TFF albums? That’s tricky to gauge, it’s certainly better than Everybody Loves a Happy Ending but as mentioned above it’s not far off Elemental or Kings of Spain for consistancy.
One wonders if this is the last roll of the dice, Orzabal and Smith now into their sixties and if it takes nearly 20 years to make an album then this might be it for TFF, however should there be an eighth album, then roll on whenever.
PLAYLIST AND CREDITS
Meanwhile, stay tuned with Kulture Kiosk via The Atlas or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram where you can see some of my photos from around the world. Blog originally posted in September 2019.
Change (from The Hurting) – Tears for Fears
Pale Shelter (from The Hurting) – Tears for Fears
Waves (from Happy Families) – Blancmange
Christian (from Difficult Shapes and Passive Rhythms) – China Crisis
Hey Little Girl (from Primitive Man) – Icehouse
The Way You Are (single) – Tears for Fears
Mothers Talk (from Songs From the Big Chair) – Tears for Fears
Head Over Heels/Broken/Head Over Heels (from Songs From the Big Chair) – Tears for Fears
My Life in the Suicide Ranks (from Saturnine Martial and Lunatic) – Tears for Fears
Broken Land (from The Sea of Love) – The Adventures
Drowning in the Sea of Love (from The Sea of Love) – The Adventures
Sowing the Seeds of Love (from The Seeds of Love) – Tears for Fears
Woman in Chains (from The Seeds of Love) – Tears for Fears
Badman’s Song (from The Seeds of Love) – Tears for Fears
Advice for the Young at Heart (from The Seeds of Love) – Tears for Fears
I Saw the Light (from Something/Anything?) – Todd Rundgren
Standing on the Corner of the Third World (from The Seeds of Love) – Tears for Fears
Swords and Knives (from The Seeds of Love) – Tears for Fears
Year of the Knife (from The Seeds of Love) – Tears for Fears
Famous Last Words (from The Seeds of Love) – Tears for Fears
Don’t Tell Me (from Mange Tout) – Blancmange
St Saviour Square (from Diary of a Hollow Horse) – China Crisis
Touch the Fire (single) – Icehouse
Laid So Low (Tears Roll Down)(from Tears Roll Down) – Tears for Fears
Break it Down Again (from Elemental) – Tears for Fears
Me and My Big Ideas (from Raoul and the Kings of Spain) – Tears for Fears
Secrets (from Raoul and the Kings of Spain) – Tears for Fears
Low Life (from Tomcats Screaming Outside) – Roland Orzabal
Hypnoculture (from Tomcats Screaming Outside) – Roland Orzabal
Calling Out (from Soul on Board) – Curt Smith
Snow Hill (from Mayfield/Aeroplane) – Curt Smith
I Don’t Want to be Around (from Mayfield/Aeroplane) – Curt Smith
And I Was a Boy from School (from Ready Boys and Girls) – Tears for Fears
I Love You But I’m Lost (from Rule the World) – Tears for Fears
The Tipping Point (from The Tipping Point) – Tears for Fears
Break the Man (from The Tipping Point) – Tears for Fears
Rivers of Mercy (from The Tipping Point) – Tears for Fears