Four decades on from the Bath band’s formation, Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith’s latest connects generations
It’s hard to believe for those that have been followers from the very start, that Tears For Fears’ quite excellent synth-pop debut The Hurting is almost 40 years old. Everyone probably knows the journey since then, you would hope, but here’s a quick recap of what followed their golden years that also produced Songs From The Big Chair (1985) and The Seeds Of Love (1989): Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal had a bust-up, fuelled by many ingredients like creative differences, more personal stuff, fame pressures and expectation.
Smith debunked to the USA and the pair didn’t speak for almost a decade. That period saw Orzabal release two ‘Curt-less’ collections until a matter concerning legal issues arose, Smith’s reply being sent on a fax machine (remember those?), an act that preceded a reunion. There followed the largely underwhelming Everybody Loves A Happy Ending (2004) and, just as the title suggested, we all thought that was that.
Well, it was. For a while. But then they had the itch to tour, festival slots mainly, and rubbing shoulders with younger bands inevitably brought them a younger audience as the next generation picked up on these two old synth-pop legends that had seemingly petered out after releasing some of the biggest and most memorable hits of the ’80s. Things developed further after they decided it would be nice to belt out some new songs as well as the expected portfolio. Which brings us to The Tipping Point, arriving almost 20 years after their last studio effort.
Album seven in the Tears For Fears catalogue experienced a difficult delivery. Firstly, there was an idea that bringing in a younger generation of songwriters to collaborate with would ‘bring them up to date’. That project ended badly, with Smith effectively pulling the plug on his involvement unless they ditched the new approach. Luckily, Orzabal agreed and they went back to square one without the many added cooks that were spoiling the Tears For Fears broth. Some tracks were reworked, but only the darker bounce of the excellent My Demons – co-written with Sacha Skarbek and Florian Reutter – remained true to its original form from those ill-fated initial album seeds.
When the duo sat down and played some acoustic guitar together – the first time they had done so since the early days – they ended up with the catalyst for opener No Small Thing. It cleverly leads you in a completely non-Tears For Fears, almost country, direction, but things soon develop into the more familiar, soaring side of the band, and this is as epic as it gets, much of the remainder of the album feeling exactly as it is – more mature – where those young anger-filled Bath boys have moved on from the trauma captured on their debut.
The title track, co-written by the band’s guitarist Charlton Pettus, was also the lead single, a number that tackles Orzabal’s grief at the loss of his first wife in 2017 and it’s a very soft, touching moment. Break The Man is another that takes things down a notch to somewhere pleasantly inoffensive musically, as is the hauntingly genteel closer Stay and the brass-tinged minimalism of Please Be Happy, another co-written with Skarbek.
Long, Long, Long Time features the band’s backing singer Carina Round and it’s a delightfully pretty cut, though just one of many highlights. Rivers Of Mercy is another stunner that could quite easily sit on The Lion King soundtrack, the backing track put together and presented to the duo by Pettus and the band’s keyboardist Doug Petty. Undulating synths adorn the catchy End Of Night that’s about the Mistral (a renowned ‘wind’ that blows up annually from the South of France) and Master Plan is familiarly grandiose, even borrowing a drum roll from Sowing The Seeds Of Love.
Aside from the music, the duo deliver songs that they want understood, although it has to be said that interpretation of lyrics is always something that is in the eye of the beholder. To truly understand what’s being said then you would need a song-by-song explanation from the writers, but needless to say there’s a striking out in current affairs (and as Smith has recently stated, they are no strangers to politically influenced songs). Regardless of song meanings, The Tipping Point manages to straddle the band’s past (the very early days aside) and stride on into present times, and that in itself should be enough to please more than one generation of Tears For Fears fans. Ultimately, The Tipping Point is a far, far better ending than the previous one, if that’s what it turns out to be.