Tears for Fears: Before and After Love

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Hey Roland, do you think I look cool upside down?

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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.

What are we looking at? Oh, apparently they’re gonna put the logo over there somewhere.

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.  

BUY TEARS FOR FEARS ON EBAY

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).

Let’s bliss out on the art shall we Curt? Umm yeah ok.

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.

The sun and the moon, wind and the rain.

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?

Look on it this way, if all else fails we’ll be huge in Argentina and Uruguay.

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.

Err miss, don’t look now but there’s a love struck bird heading towards you!

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 EIGHTIES END AND 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).

It started with a kiss, never thought it would come to this.

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.’

Designer wallpaper, the Elemental artworks by David Austen.

ELEMENTAL SPANISH

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.

No bull, the madness of Roland’s secrets.

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 flameAnd 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.

Orzabal and Smith ..they fade to grey.

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. Back to the drawing board then.

They call him mellow yellow.

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).

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).

Who said we should jump from here?

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.

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. All of this is but another roll of the dice, a cliffhanger with the 10 track album not expected until February 25th 2022 – a mere 37 years since The Big Chair.

PLAYLIST AND CREDITS

Thanks for reading here, should you be interested in my work; principally writing, photography, and teaching, check out the MEDIA page, and/or the UNIVERSITY page for my teaching ethos. 

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.

PLAYLIST
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
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

Photos: Discogs.