Though best known in the prog community for their actual albums–such as SONGS FROM THE BIG CHAIR or EVERYBODY LOVES A HAPPY ENDING–Tears for Fears is also the master of the single. Perhaps this is an artifact of the innumerable remixes of the 1980s, the decade of their origins, or, perhaps, the ideas of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith just never stop and cannot be contained by an album. Looking over their history as a band and as individuals, I think I’ll choose the latter explanation. Throughout the band’s thirty-four year career, amazingly enough, Tears for Fears has only released six studio albums. In that same period, though, the band has released dozens of singles, each different in style, theme, and genre. While their albums tend toward the progressive pop of PET SOUNDS by the Beach Boys or SKYLARKING by XTC, their singles range all over the place, traversing and, at moments, transcending, both space and time.
One can, however, effectively divide the singles into three types: covers; rock and pop cinematic outbursts; and prog and electronica experimentalism. The band has released these in a variety of forms: box sets; cd singles; one compilation album; and as bonus tracks.
As I’ve had the opportunity to argue many times over on Progarchy, Tears for Fears is my favorite pop band, and I consider Roland Orzabal the greatest living writer of pop music. Huge claims, I know. But, then again, I’m from Kansas, and I’m a Birzer. If I didn’t speak with apparent hyperbole, my brain and soul might just very well explode.
My feelings toward TFF have been with me since I first heard SONGS FROM THE BIG CHAIR, 32 years ago. If my convictions about TFF and Orzabal have wavered, I’ve not been aware of such.
Seeing them live has only further convinced me in my claims.
The new single–while, to me, surprising in the direction taken–does nothing to alter my previous claims. Now available on iTunes, the new single is the first music the band has released since the 2014 Record Day exclusive EP of three covers, READY BOYS AND GIRLS? Before that, the band had released two new songs as bonus tracks on its 2005 live album, SECRET WORLD.
The new single is a rather direct pop-dance single, with rave-like keyboards, high-pitched vocals, and an anthemic refrain.
For those of us hoping for a brand new album, we’re a bit disappointed, as the new single comes with a new greatest hits package, RULE THE WORLD. A second new single, “Stay,” also appears on RULE THE WORLD (itself, available on November 10, 2017, from Mercury Records).
Let’s hope and pray that the rumored album, THE TIPPING POINT, is still forthcoming.
There are no words. The greatest pop-prog band in the world. Color me envious!!! Seeing them in Denver in 2015 was one of the great highlights of my life. Such natural performers, such integrity, such artistry. Call me smitten.
I’m thrilled to learn that the forthcoming Tears for Fears album has a name: THE TIPPING POINT. At the moment, the title is a tentative one, more indicative of the band’s desires and aspirations than of any confirmed realizations.
It’s been, amazingly enough, thirteen years since the band’s last studio album, EVERYBODY LOVES A HAPPY ENDING.
Westword has a really good article and interview here:
I, for one, have no doubt that this will be a worthy successor to EVERYBODY and a brilliant album. I’m pretty convinced that Orzabal is our great living pop musician.
I’d never lived through a summer quite that humid. Even the two summers I’d spent in Fairfax, Virginia, seemed tame compared to that summer in Bloomington, Indiana. I was over at a friend’s house—sans air conditioning—and we were lazily talking as sweat dripped off us. She popped in a new CD, and I was immediately mesmerized by it, forgetting all of those pesky atmospheric woes. I knew the voice immediately, as I’d always been rather obsessed with the singer and the song writer, but I’d had no idea that the band had recorded a new album. The last one had been really good, but I’d not been blown away by it, at least not to the extent that the first two had captivated me. But, after just a minute or so of listening to the new album in the summer of 1993, I grabbed the booklet of ELEMENTAL and pored over the lyrics and the liner notes.
I’d known that Curt Smith had left the band, but I knew nothing about Alan Griffiths or Tim Palmer. Their names were all over the notes, almost as prominent as Roland Orzabal’s.
Lots of good stuff–old, new, redone–arrived at progarchy hq this week. Not bad. Not bad at all.
In no particular order:
Aronora, the new project by Ben Cameron. The album: Escapology.
New Order, Brotherhood (collector’s edition)
XTC, Nonsuch (the Steven Wilson remix version)
ABC, The Lexicon of Love (deluxe edition)
Neal Morse, Neal Morse (Morse’s first solo album)
Mayfield, Mayfield (Curt Smith’s side band)
U2, War (deluxe edition)
AndersonPonty Band, Better Late than Never
Orzabal has never embraced the term “progressive,” identifying it with Pink Floyd, but he is certainly the most experimental pop musician alive—rivaled only by Brian Wilson, Paul McCartney, Robert Smith, Andy Partridge, and Peter Gabriel. From my perspective, Orzabal is the greatest living pop musician, but I think this would be open to debate. And, of course, the debate would demand a proper definition of pop.
A good friend of mine (a fellow music lover and a fellow Kansan), Derek, properly challenged this assertion of mine while also admitting how much he loves Orzabal.
I did my best to defend my claim. Here’s the conversation:
Derek: “From my perspective, Orzabal is the greatest living pop musician…” Wow! I’m still trying to wrap my head around that statement. Not disagreeing necessarily, but wow. I love Orzabal’s work but also equally love Neil Finn’s work, especially with Crowded House (and double especially on the album “Temple of Low Men”). Oleta Adams with Orzabal on “Me and My Big Ideas” is just sublime. I had forgotten how much she brought to the TFF sound. Hiring her was a stroke of genius on the part of Orzabal and Smith.
Me: Derek–it’s debatable, for sure. But, I think about Orzabal’s willingness to experiment–and his slow but excellent body of work over 30+ years. I’m excluding straight rock and prog musicians in the comment. I must admit, I don’t know Neil Finn’s work beyond a few wonderful songs he wrote in the 80s. But, for example, Michael Stipe is good, but his music sounds dated to me in a way that Orzabal’s doesn’t.
Derek: All compelling points, Bradley. The point about Orzabal’s “slow but excellent body of work over 30+ years” is well taken. If you can, give Crowded House’s “Temple of Low Men” a spin. It is downright criminal that that album wasn’t a smash. The song “When You Come” should have been just as big of a hit as “Don’t Dream It’s Over” or “Something So Strong.” Finn is hands down one of my favorite pop music lyricists, bar none. An example from the aforementioned “When You Come.”
When you come across the sea
Me like a beacon guiding you to safety
The sooner the better now
And when you come the hills
Will breathe like a baby
Pulled up heaving from the bottom of the ocean
The sooner the better now
When you come to cover me with your kisses
Fresh like a daisy chained up in a lion’s den
The sooner the better now
I’ll know you by the thunderclap
Pouring like a rain of blood to my emotions
And that is why
I stumble to my knees
And I haven’t even mentioned the other amazing songs from Temple of Low Men like “I Feel Possessed,” “Into Temptation,” “Sister Madly,” and “Better Be Home Soon.”
Me: The first master was Brian Wilson, in my opinion, but his career, for obvious reasons, faded quickly.
Derek: Agreed 100%.
Me: Andy Partridge is brilliant, but he’s so dark and cynical. It’s hard to take some of his music, especially when he’s not tempered by Dave Gregory. Then, Paul McCartney, but, again, a career that was stunning but relatively short–though some of his best work was with early Wings.
Let me try to defend my claim that Orzabal is the greatest with a bit more gusto and in a larger space. A few caveats, however. Yes, I’m an American. Yes, I’m prone to hyperbole. Yes, I’m an American prone to hyperbole! The kind of hyperbole that makes non-Americans uneasy. Neil Peart is the greatest drummer who ever lived. George Washington is the greatest American ever. SPIRIT OF EDEN is the greatest prog album ever written. KIND OF BLUE is the greatest jazz ever made. The Aeneid is the greatest story ever written. Etc. Etc. Etc. I plead guilty to hyperbole.
I also plead guilty to wielding strong loyalties.
So let me try to explain what I mean about Roland Orzabal.
First, he is experimental, and he’s more than willing to take chances, wherever those chances lead him. He’s willing to embrace high pop (Sgt. Peppers), art rock, soul, gospel, rock, power pop, prog, minimalism, electronica, and dance. His very output and his very life seems to transcend labels in the best way possible, just writing what needs to be written, when and where it needs to be written. And, this is just within his individual songs.
His albums, each taken as a whole, are equally diverse:
- THE HURTING: Minimalist New Wave
- SONGS FROM THE BIG CHAIR: Progressive Pop (Art Rock)
- SEEDS OF LOVE: Jazz, theatric soul and pop
- ELEMENTAL: Atmospheric and moody pop
- RAOUL: Autobiographical earnest pop
- TOMCATS: Electronica
- EVERYBODY LOVES A HAPPY ENDING: High Art Rock/pop; progressive pop
- Orzabal’s B-sides: every thing and every genre imaginable.
Second, think about his competition, as I mentioned in the above discussion with my friend, Derek. Brian Wilson was brilliant, but, for sad and obvious reasons, he has not been able to sustain his career. Sir Paul McCartney had an amazing run with the Beatles and with early Wings, but, he too, wasn’t able to sustain it. His pop became more and more bland as the mid 70s became the late 70s. Robert Smith is a master as well, but, frankly, he’s so much better when he’s writing gothic rock than when he writes pop. DISINTEGRATION is The Cure’s best album because it’s not pop in any way. There’s no “Friday, I’m in Love,” to bring the album down. Peter Gabriel is Orzabal’s greatest rival, but even his music has a sameness (relatively speaking), at least over time, that Orzabal has avoided. At this point, Gabriel is simply offering (brilliant, of course) reworked versions of his music from the 70s and 80s. And, as great as Andy Partridge is (my gosh, think about the gorgeousness of a song such as Bungalow), he’s so unremittingly dark and bitter. He desperately needed a Dave Gregory to temper him. Other candidates are out there. Sarah McLachlan? She made three great albums, then descended into blandness. Sixpence None the Richer? Again, wonderful, but lost it after three albums. Michael Stipe? So great at one point, but his music seems dated now.
Third, Orzabal’s lyrics. Whether telling a story, railing against a politician, writing about depression, or simply stringing works together for the love of the words themselves, Orzabals lyrics are always very clever, and so very able to mixed note and/with meaning so perfectly. I don’t always agree with his politics or religious views (I’m probably as libertarian and conservative as he is liberal; and I’m also a practicing (if poor) Roman Catholic, while I understand he is not only a lapsed Catholic but an atheist), but I always take him and his ideas seriously. And, whether he’s writing about love, loss, redemption, physics, or anything else that matters, he’s very, very good! His lyrics mix intelligence with whimsy, but they’re also just so beautifully constructed.
Fourth, his voice. Granted, you always know when Orzabal is singing. But, he can vary it in so many ways, and he can make the strangest, weirdest voices, when the music demands it. For the longest time (well, for thirty years), I thought this was all just studio trickery. I was wrong. After seeing him live, I realize just how capable of goodness and weirdness(!) he is.
Fifth, he’s utterly sincere—whether its in his music, his lyrics, his views, his moods, or his first novel. Whatever it is, it has meaning to him. One of my greatest pet peeves is when an artist tries to mock his own success or mock those who adore him and his art. It’s one thing to be humorous and self-deprecating (both of which are wonderful and necessary in this rather insane world). It’s a completely different thing to mock one’s fans. There’s nothing cynical about Orzabal’s art. What you see is what you get, though, of course, always layered and nuanced.
One major admission. I could not have written this piece a week ago. As I mentioned in my concert review of TFF the other day, I had assumed for thirty years that TFF was at their best in the studio. I’d dismissed their live performances as uninspired. Granted, I did so out of complete ignorance, having never seen them play life until six days ago.
Seeing them perform in Denver last Sunday night made me realize just how wrong I was. A year or so ago, I wrote about SONGS FROM THE BIG CHAIR as the best pop album ever written. Now that I’ve seen TFF live, I can state with conviction and evidence that Orzabal is our greatly living pop artist.
And, I’ll make this prediction. The forthcoming TFF album will be an unexpected and satisfying work of art that will take the pop and rock world by storm. Orzabal and Smith aren’t living on or in the past. They are at the absolute height of their game right now. And, of course, they’ve earned every single accolade they will receive.
Last night, my wife and I—just about to celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary—treated ourselves to a concert by Tears for Fears.
For those of you who read progarchy.com regularly, you know that not only do we as a website love the work of TFF, but I, Brad, have been rather obsessed with Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith since 1985.
Yes, 30 years—just four more years than I’ve been in love with Rush. And, of course, what a comparison. Can you imagine Peart and Orzabal writing lyrics together? Tom Sawyer meets Admiral Halsey!
I came to TFF in the same way almost every American my age did, from hearing “Everybody wants to rule the world” on MTV. What a glorious song. Here was New Wave, but New Wave-pop-prog. Here were intelligent lyrics. Here, to my mind, was music done properly. Having grown up on Yes and Genesis and Kansas, I wanted my New Wave to be just a bit edgier than, say, that of the B-52s. I wanted my New Wave artists to take themselves as seriously as Yes had done on “Close to the Edge.”
Well, as I’ve written elsewhere at progarchy, Songs from the Big Chair has remained in my top 10 albums of all time—ever since I first purchased it in 1985. Of course, I worked backwards after discovering TTF, finding The Hurting to be a brilliantly angsty and claustrophobic look at the world. I think I’m just about six years younger than Curt and Roland, and I could easily imagine them as schoolmates.
Since 1985, I have purchased every single thing TFF has released—every TFF studio album, every live album, every cover, every b-side (TFF’s b-sides are every bit as good as the Cure’s; the b-sides for each matter, a great deal), every remaster, every deluxe edition, and every solo album. No matter the cost, I’ve happily paid the price. When I switched to CDs in the 1990s, the first two I bought were The Hurting and U2’s October. I also have Orzabal’s novel. Yeah, I’m definitely a bit obsessed.
Have I revealed enough of my TFF street cred to move on?
So, despite loving TFF as one of my three favorite bands for thirty years (Rush, Talk Talk, and TFF), I owe the two Englishmen a rather large apology. For thirty years, I’ve dismissed their live performances as much as I have lauded their studio work. Not that I really knew much about them live. I’d never seen them actually in the flesh. Everything I knew of them live had been recorded, and it always felt a bit “uninspired” to me, with their vocals especially sounding weak.
Well, let me be blunt. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Last night, TFF played their hearts out. I mean: Played. Their. Hearts. Out. Holy Moses. Not only were they amazing live, they were even better live than on their studio albums. I thought it must be just my excitement at the moment as I listened to them last night. My very American enthusiasm—the kind that makes the Brits think me “over the top”—can sometimes get the best of me. But, no. Right after the concert, I listened to the brand new remastered (Steven Wilson) version of Songs from the Big Chair just to check myself and my impressions. I wasn’t wrong. They did sound better live than on Songs from the Big Chair. But, for thirty years, I’ve been wrong! So, my apologies.
From the first explosion of sound to Roland and Curt waving their final goodbyes to the audience, they performed flawlessly, with deep emotion, and with a complete (equaled only by Rush fans at a Rush concert) connection to the audience.
And, Roland and Curt loved every moment of the concert. No English reserve here. Just pure love of the art.
The show began with what I assume was a taped recording of a number of voices singing “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” In hindsight, I’m questioning whether this was taped or not, as the voices might very well have been Roland’s, Curt’s, and the guest female vocalist’s (I apologize—but I didn’t catch her name). However it was done, it was done well. From complete darkness and the disembodied voices floating around the venue, an explosion of light and sound revealed the full band, and they immediately played the opening song of “Everybody. . . .”
From that very first explosion and revelation, TFF held the entire crowd (about 18,000—there were no empty chairs or spots in the entire venue) in rapt attention. I mean, that audience belonged to TFF: lock, stock, and barrel.
Though the band never took a break—expect for a minute or so before the encore—it would be fair to divide the show into two sets, broken by a cover version of Radiohead’s “Creep.”
The first set ran for 10 songs without a single pause in the music—with the exception of some very sincere and humorous banter from Roland, Curt, and the audience—Everybody; Secret World; Sowing the Seeds of Love; Pale Shelter; Break it Down Again; Everybody Loves a Happy Ending; Change; Mad World; Memories Fade; and Closest Thing to Heaven.
Set Two, coming after Creep, consisted of: Advice for the Young at Heart; Badman’s Song; Head over Heals; Woman in Chains; and Shout.
So, TFF played at least one song from every studio album except Raoul. The first set emphasized The Hurting and Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, while the second set featured The Seeds of Love.
As a three-decade long TFF fan(antic), let me make a few observations—all of which were revelations to me last night, whether minor or major ones.
First, as noted above, Roland and Curt were in top form. Not only did they sound simply perfect (Roland’s voice only gets better with age), but they were obviously happy and confident. Indeed, I think they were fairly overwhelmed by the loving response of the audience. At one point, Roland talked about a recent conversation with Curt. Roland, remembering their performance at Red Rock’s in 1985, asked Curt when the “best days” were? Curt responded: “now.”
Second, Roland is hilarious. He loves adding weird voices on a number of his songs. This, I knew. I just assumed it was all studio fun. What I’d never realized before—not yet having seen them live—is that Roland is very clearly channeling Peter Gabriel from his Genesis days. No, Roland wasn’t wearing strange outfits, but he was definitely playing different characters throughout the songs, especially in the first set. During “Break It Down” (featuring a very enthusiastic Curt, even though this song came from one of the two albums Roland wrote without him), Roland pretended to be Paul McCartney’s Admiral Halsey. It was hilarious and quite true to the art.
Third, set one could’ve been none more prog. It was just so artfully woven together. Every song flowed into every other so beautifully. Really, so TERRIBLY beautifully. I was riveted. Whether the songs were in the XTC vein of “Everybody Loves a Happy Ending” or the Steve Reichian vein of “Pale Shelter,” everything flowed together so perfectly. Obviously, Roland and Curt had created, essentially, a whole new album with their choice of individual tracks. What a tapestry of sound and texture.
Sadly, I never caught the names of the supporting band members, but they performed perfectly as well. In particular, I was struck by how the band as a whole rearranged songs from The Hurting, changing out the brass for fascinating drum or guitar fills. Again, it could get NONE MORE PROG! The transition between “Memories Fade” and “Mad World” was especially powerful, with the guitarist capturing the attention of the audience with a really weird but compelling solo. It could’ve been a 1972 Yes concert.
Fourth, the real friendship—whatever their past—between Roland and Curt was palpable. Simply put, these two men belong together. In a full-bodied Aristotelian/Thomist kind of way, nature meant these two to walk the earth together at the same time. One of the most moving (of many moving) moments came when Curt sang “Change.” As he sang the lyric, “What has happened to the friend I once knew,” Roland just looked at him with a knowing and satisfied smile. All spontaneous, all beautiful.
Fifth. This wasn’t a nostalgia tour. This was real. A real concert with real artists who have made art so well that it breathes freely and readily even after three decades.
What more to say? 13 hours after Roland and Curt waved goodbye to us, I’m still in a satisfied state of mind and soul. That my wife and I got to share that evening—an evening of art, friendship, meaning, and creativity with one of my three favorite bands over 2/3 of my life—means everything. I’m just basking in the afterglow.
If you have the chance, do not under any circumstances miss this tour. I’m already planning on seeing Tears for Fears again in Detroit in September. When I asked my wife if she’d want to go to see them again, she responded, “Of course.”
As I finished my junior year of high school, Tears for Fears released its second album, the first to make it huge in the U.S., Songs from the Big Chair.
The first album, The Hurting, proved the sheer brilliance of Orzabal and Smith, but it also felt very, very, very, very (ok, I’ll stop–but, really, very) constricting. As Orzabal and Smith released their primal screams and healed their own hurts, the listener entered into a sort of padded but rhythmic asylum for 41 minutes and 39 seconds.
Possibly the breath would simply disappear if that album went on 21 more seconds. Imagine Andy Summers shouting “mother!” or Phil Collins begging for his “mama” but with serious prog sensibilities. Well, you get The Hurting. Enough.
In contrast, Songs from the Big Chair, though still thematically dealing with emotional and mental trauma, sends the listener into realms of openness and euphoria. The entire album is full of possibilities, full of what might have beens–all of them good, a cornucopia of aural pleasures. For the listener, Songs from the Big Chair is one huge intake of morning air in the Rocky Mountains. This is pop at its purest, achieved, really, only by the Beatles and XTC. Rarified.
Side one (yes, I’m old enough to remember sides). Frankly, the two American hits, “Shout” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, are the weakest tracks on the entire album. But, that said, they’re still brilliant. “Shout” is righteous pop, filled with a soaring guitar that might fit nicely on a Big Country album. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” is a clever dig at oppression and imperialism, dressed in a sunny tune.
Both of these songs played so often on radio and MTV in the mid 1980s in the United States that it’s impossible for me to avoid thinking about Apple Computer, Ronald Reagan, the Icelandic summit, or John Hughes when hearing even a few notes of either.
“The Working Hour,” track two, rings with jazz flourishes and an urgency lyrically and musically. It begins with pure taste, as brass and keyboards gently dance around one another. Though only one second shorter than “Shout”, the song has much more depth to it. It’s Orzabal’s guitar work, however, that makes the song so beautiful. That, and his voice–the depth and anguish of it all. It all ends up being a song that never ages, never becomes tiresome.
Track four on side one, “Mother’s Talk,” has the percussive feel of much of The Hurting but without the claustrophobia. Indeed, it feels far more Latin American and than it does European. Or, perhaps, it has a bit of Peter Gabriel in it. Whatever it is, it works wonderfully, a perfect way to end side one. As with The Hurting, the lyrics are gut-wrenching and desperate, dealing with the fears of conformity and the inability to resist what is clearly dangerous in a community. In the end, the weak person destroys not only his own soul but the very integrity of society as well.
Side Two, a dramatic tale from beginning to end. Starting with ominous notes from a grand piano, Orzabal picks up lyrically from the previous album. “I believe,” he cries in his best croon, an affirmation that the therapy expressed in The Hurting has accomplished something. Well, at least that’s his hope. By the end of the song, however, Orzabal expresses nothing but doubt. Who are you to think that you can shape a life? No, too late.
The song slides perfectly into “Broken”–less than three-minutes long, but full of 80s production–with big and angry guitar, a relentlessly driving bass, and intricate keyboards. “Between the searching and the need to work it out,” Orzabal laments, he deceived himself by believing all would be well. Impossible. “Broken. We are broken.”
Then, the haunting line: a moment only between being a child and being a man, seeing one’s life in continuity, all that is good and all that is wrong. Tempus fugit. A moment.
Back to full-blown, over the top, crooning pop: “Head over Heels.” Sheesh, Orzabal explains, I just wanted to talk, to enjoy your company. I didn’t realize this was going to get so deep, so quickly. He then explains that his family desired so much of him and for him. He. Well, he just wanted some freedom to find his own path and his own creativity. So hard to do. “I’m on the line, one open mind.”
As the song fades out with a chorus of “la-la-la-la (repeat x20),” Orzabal’s voice twists and the album returns to “Broken,” ending, strangely, with a live audience cheering wildly. As the audience’s applause dies down, swirling, psychedelic keyboard and hypnotic voices emerge. Again, with the tasteful guitar of side one. The final six minutes of the album seems like something that might have appeared on a pre-pop Simple Minds or a Tangerine Dream album. Electronica not for dance, but for centering and psychic probing.
The lyrics to the final song, “Listen,” conclude nothing but add a certain mystery to the whole album. Only a few lines repeat: Russia attempts to heal, while the pilgrims head to America. Meanwhile, Orzabal chants his desire to soothe feelings and bring mercy. Spanish voices cry in bewilderment.
The final noise of the album: percussion that sounds as though an ocean wave has overcome all.
For me, the album is the sound track to my senior year of high school. My debate colleague and one of my life-long friends, Ron Strayer, and I listened to the album over and over again, adding the b-side “Pharaohs.”
Frankly, I think the overwhelming popularity of Tears for Fears in the 1980s and some of the pretentiousness of their lyrics has relegated them merely to 80’s status, locked in that decade as though a museum piece. They deserve more applause and attention from those of us who love music. I never particularly liked The Seeds of Love (1989), but I think Elemental (1993) and Raoul and the Kings of Spain (1995) are some of the most creatively crafted rock/pop albums ever made.
Though, the final Tears for Fears album, Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, could be an XTC-style Dukes of Stratosphere paean to the Beatles, it works. It has some of the best pop written. . . well, since Abbey Road. “Who Killed Tangerine?” especially has to be one of the most interesting pop songs of all time.
But, these are topics for other posts. For now, enjoy a rediscovery of Songs from the Big Chair.