Ranking Tears for Fears

Orzabal-tomcats_screaming_outsideTen years ago this Sunday, Tears for Fears released its last full album, Everybody Loves a Happy Ending. As I realized this this week, it hit me hard that it has been this long since the band’s last album. A decade. Of course, that album appeared nine years after the previous one, Raoul and the Kings of Spain. Still, in between the two albums came Orzabal’s truly brilliant solo album, Tomcats Screaming Outside. Thus, the gap seemed less severe.

This is not to suggest that TFF has fallen off the radar of popular culture completely since 2004. Far from it.

ready boys and girls
Released last spring, but only on vinyl.

In fact, they’ve been quite active in a variety of ways. In addition to some infrequent touring, TFF released a three-song EP of covers, Ready Boys and Girls? (only on vinyl and with a gloriously psychedelic cover) last spring and is, according to the news available, hard at work on a new album, a rather dark one it seems.

Rolling Stone covered quite a bit of TFF news almost a year ago. http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/tears-for-fears-arcade-fire-cover-kick-started-new-recording-20130822.

Roland has also just this year released his first novel, Sex, Drugs, and Opera. I’ve yet to read it, but I most certainly will as soon as time allows. Reviews of it have been strong, most reviewers noting with some surprise that this is Roland’s first novel. The guy is obviously immensely talented.

For what it’s worth, I’ve been interested in TFF since I first heard “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” This was the first single to make its way to the U.S. and to the Great Plains of central Kansas. It was the second single, “Shout,” that convinced me to (made me?!?!) fall in love with the band. I immediately purchased Songs from the Big Chair as well as The Hurting. I’ve detailed my thoughts about Songs from the Big Chair elsewhere on progarchy. Suffice it state here, I consider it—along with Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys and XTC’s Skylarking—as the three best and greatest examples of progressive pop. https://progarchy.com/2013/03/27/about-as-good-as-pop-gets-songs-from-the-big-chair-1985/

If pushed, I might also throw in some of World Party’s songs (but not the albums).

As far as I know, I own a copy of every single song TFF has made with the exception of the vinyl releases mentioned above. I’ve even bought multiple copies of certain albums (such as Songs from the Big Chair and Raoul) just to get the b-sides included with each new release. So, it would be fair to state that I’m a rather huge fan and have been for decades.


To commemorate the tenth anniversary of Everybody Loves a Happy Ending and in anticipation of a full album, I’ve decided to rank all TFF albums.  So, here they are:

songs big chairSongs from the Big Chair (1985). As I’ve tried to argue elsewhere, this is a perfect progressive pop album, beautifully conceived and constructed. No stand out tracks as they’re all stand out. Not a flaw on this album.  10/10

The best TFF album since Elemental, 2004's EVERYBODY LOVES A HAPPY ENDING.

Everybody Loves a Happy Ending (2004). Not at the level of Songs from the Big Chair, but pretty close. The album suffers from two problems. First, it’s not nearly as cohesive as Songs. Second, it has a few weak tracks. Still, the album as a whole is so good that it makes the weak tracks even better. The best tracks: Call Me Mellow, Who Killed Tangerine?, Quiet Ones, The Devil, Killing With Kindness, and Lady Bird. 8/10

elemental-4e3c6aeb6d16fElemental (1993). Again, a nearly perfect album. If I had to label it, I’d call it prog electronica. As the title suggests, the atmospherics on this album are just stunning, as are the lyrics. Stand out tracks—all of them, really. Not a dud on the album. But, I most like: “Elemental,” “Cold,” “Mr. Pessimist,” “Fish Out of Water,” “Gas Giants,” “Power,” and “Brian Wilson Said.” Everybody Loves a Happy Ending ranks higher, in my opinion, only because its best songs are better than the best songs on Elemental. But, barely. 8/10

Tears-For-Fears-The-HurtingThe Hurting (1982). Artistically, this is a brilliant album. It is almost pure art rock. Yet, it’s so claustrophobic, it’s hard for me to listen to too often. Still, who couldn’t recognize its genius? 7/10

Saturnine Martial and Lunatic
. When it comes to b-sides, TFF writes the best. Indeed, the b-sides of TFF not only rival their main album singles, they usually better the very best of other bands. Only Talk Talk, U2, and The Cure rival TFF when it comes to b-sides. Saturnine contains 18 songs from the studio sessions of the first four albums. Even the most experimental, “The Big Chair,” “The Marauders,” and “Empire Building” are interesting. Again, not a failure here. Everything is either brilliant or fascinating (usually both). The weakest song is “New Star,” a pop rocker. But, in context, it’s pretty good. 7/10

Tears+For+Fears+-+Raoul+And+The+Kings+Of+Spain+-+CD+ALBUM-476930Raoul and the King of Spain (1995). There’s much to love about this album. Indeed, the first five songs are some of the best songs I’ve ever heard. They can best be described as earnest. Here we have the complete Roland—he gives his every thing on these five songs. The remainder of the album is good, but it begins to feel overproduced, beginning with track six. And, unfortunately, that album that started so amazingly simply fizzles out. “Falling Down,” track two, might very well be the single best song Roland has written, and this is saying a lot. 5/10

seeds of loveThe Seeds of Love (1989). This is, by far, TFF’s least successful album, in my opinion. Successful, that is, measured artistically.   Overall, the album is way too bombastic in tone and over-produced. Every time I listen to it, I feel as though the band is screaming at me. Two songs I do enjoy: “Standing on the Corner of the Third World” and, especially, “The Year of the Knife.” Otherwise, I just don’t get this album or why it was so financially successful. 2/10

10 thoughts on “Ranking Tears for Fears

  1. Kevin Williams


    It’s clear we were separated at birth in terms of loving so many of the same bands, but for once, I wholeheartedly disagree with you on one part of your list.

    Seeds Of Love residing at the bottom? How can this be, my friend? How? 🙂

    My first exposure to TSOL was through the title track’s video, and while I probably wrote it off on first listen (viewing?) as a blatant homage to the Lads, I also thought at the time that they could have easily stayed in “Big Chair” mode, but instead they were trying something different. I gave them credit for that.

    Next single up was “Advice For The Young At Heart,” featuring a chorus with phrasing that sounded very fresh to me (along with a great melody), plus I liked how nearly all the instruments fell out during that first verse after getting only what seemed like piano, bass and drums leading up to it.

    The hook was nearly set after that track, but what sent me running to buy TSOL was “Woman In Chains.” The writing and structure was SO different for a pop song…they did an amazing job building the tension throughout, then sent us off with the beautiful “So free her” section – that soaring vocal of Roland’s and Oleta’s with the lovely guitar work underneath.

    We then get the epic “Standing On The Corner Of The Third World.” This track instantly transports me another place with its feel and instrumentation, plus it features one of the most elegant drummers in the game in Manu Katche’.

    Heck, that first batch of tracks would have been good enough for me – I also love the dynamics, structure, jazzy groove and Oleta’s contribution to “Bad Man’s Song” – but we still have three fine tracks to go in “Swords And Knives,” the live (or is it?) read of “Year Of The Knife” which somehow transitions into the quiet, contemplative “Famous Last Words,” featuring another soaring vocal part by Roland in the middle.

    I find TSOL to be very dynamic, quite moody, and while there are a fair amount of sonically dense sections, there are sections where you almost have to strain to hear what’s happening. I’m sure it *was* over-produced and there had to have been a strain on the relationship, for they were done after the following tour…but man, what an album TSOL was! 🙂

    Where would I put it, you ask? Maybe you didn’t, but here goes anyway!

    I’d likely give it the top spot, though I agree with your rankings of ELAHE and Elemental where they are. Stunning efforts, both, though they just don’t “tie the room together” as a whole.

    Can’t wait for their next album, which I think should be well underway by now…in the meantime, somebody remind me why I’m not going to see them in Oakland this month after adoring their Napa performance in 2011. 🙂

    Despite disagreeing with where you put TSOL, Brad, thanks so much for your words about this incredible duo. Cheers!

    P.S. – Tying this back to prog, I was fortunate to have seen a private, short acoustic performance by TFF in 2004 to promote ELAHE. Knowing that NDV was on that promo tour, I managed to get a hold of his bride via e-mail, letting her know that I would be there and that a fellow drummer, Spock’s fan and someone born on the same day (!) would be there and would love to say hi. She obviously passed that on to him, for when I introduced myself to him prior to their set – it was an intimate, yet informal setting – Nick knew the entire “backstory.” He couldn’t have been nicer; I even gave him a few opportunities to cut this fanboy loose, figuring that he probably needed to get ready to play, but he was happy to continue chatting. Had him sign my special edition copy of “Feel Euphoria” at the gig. Great evening!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What a great story, Kevin. And, please post this as an official progarchy post! I love your thoughts–as always. And, for what it’s worth, I like SEEDS OF LOVE a bit better now. But, that means it’s no longer a 1/10!


  3. Christopher Youngblood

    I absolutely know I am in the minority here but I think Songs From The Big Chair is their weakest album. It ruled the charts in it’s time and certainly introduced me to my absolute favorite band but in older years I feel the album is a little immature for me? Trying to find the right phrase. With one exception to what I call Tears best song to date “The Working Hour” is just pure brilliance. Nothing they have done has even come close to topping that song.

    I agree with you on Seeds as well. It is one of my least favorite’s from the boys, very overproduced and does not flow too well. Still love it though!!! 😉 Is that possible with my previous comment? LOL

    My top would be “Raoul & The Kings Of Spain”. I think it’s Roland’s “Mona Lisa” and the album is just brilliant. Criminally underrated and often ignored by casual fans I am glad Roland is offering a song or two from this masterpiece on tour occasionally even though Curt was no way involved in any of it.

    Just my thoughts, Tears For Fears will and always be my favorite band of all time.


    1. Chris, excellent reply. Thank you. The Working Hour is one of their best, to be sure! For me, Curt has a great voice, but it always existed to augment Roland’s music. I was never bothered by is TFF Roland or Roland and Curt. I think the albums Roland did without Curt show how powerful an artist he is. Still, I’m glad to have them together again.


  4. Michael Abernethy

    Out of curiosity, where/how would you rank the solo stuff? Tomcats Screaming Outside; Mayfield, Curt’s Soul On Board; Aeroplane; Halfway, Pleased; Deceptively Heavy

    If I may:
    Tomcats: 8/10
    Mayfield: 7/10
    Halfway, Pleased: 6/10
    Aeroplane: 4/10
    Soul on Board: 4/10


    1. Thanks so much for this. I’m not familiar with SOUL ON BOARD, but I love Roland’s solo album, and I plan to review it soon. I love Curt’s solo stuff as well. Thanks for this. And, for the ranking, too.


      1. Michael A

        Well, Curt has renounced Soul On Board almost since the day of it’s release. It’s slick adult contemporary early 90’s pop. Judged against the similar stuff of its time, it’s pretty good, really.

        I have enjoyed all of their work together and apart, and I really enjoy Curt’s stuff for the chance to hear what he sounds like without Roland’s influence. The Mayfield album was particularly strong, and Halfway, Pleased is quite beautiful.

        Tomcats is in a league of its own, though. Love love love that one.
        Have you had a chance to hear the Orzabal/Griffiths helmed debut of Emiliana Torrini? Same sonic vein. Very nicely done. And some top songwriting by Mr. O.

        Thanks for responding. Glad to have found your blog.

        Liked by 1 person


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