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Tears For Fears

+ {Graduate} + {Roland Orzabal}

Catching the imagination of the synth-pop/rock community in a decadent 80s with their grandiose and complex themes, TEARS FOR FEARS (singer/guitarist Roland Orzabal and bassist/vocalist Curt Smith) had the mad world at their proverbial feet when everybody was apparently trying to rule it.
Formed 1981 in Bath, Avon (now Somerset), England, the childhood friends of Orzabal and Smith first got together professionally when the pair laid down session tracks for hopefuls Neon; NAKED EYES alumni Pete Byrne and Rob Fisher emerged from out this combo. At a time when mod/ska-pop was on the rise in 1979, Roland and Curt – alongside guitarist John Baker, keyboardist/flautist Steve Buck and drummer Andy Marsden – stirred up a beat in GRADUATE. After only one single, `Mad One’ (for the Blue Hat independent), the quintet caught the attention of veteran Tony Hatch, who passed them on to Precision Records, an off-shoot of PYE. Referring to COSTELLO (current producer of rivals The SPECIALS) rather than PRESLEY, `Elvis Should Play Ska’ bubbled under the Top 75, while on the continent (Spain and Switzerland primarily) the witty, JOE JACKSON-esque piece did much better. As the mod and ska movement centred around a limited number of British bands, GRADUATE suffered when both `Ever Met A Day’, and its accompanying album ACTING MY AGE (1980) {*5}, fell by the wayside; Baker would end up in The KORGIS.
Inspired by psychotherapist Arthur Janov’s controversial “primal scream” therapy, Messrs Orzabal and Smith named their new group accordingly; TEARS FOR FEARS subsequently signing to Mercury Records on the strength of some imaginative demos and A&R man Dave Bates. When two early singles, `Suffer The Children’ (produced by David Lord) and `Pale Shelter (You Don’t Give Me Love)’ (produced by Mike Howlett), failed to achieve their goal, the duo played their joker in the pack, `Mad World’. A claustrophobic and emotional synth-pop track (worked on with Chris “Merrick” Hughes, ex-ADAM & THE ANTS), it steadily rose to No.3, and made inroads as far afield as Australia and New Zealand.
Adding Ian Stanley (keyboards) and Manny Elias (drums; ex-Neon), TEARS FOR FEARS sealed another Top 5 entry early the following year with `Change’, while the attendant debut album, THE HURTING (1983) {*9}, took hold of the No.1 spot for one week. Po-faced in true 80s aplomb, with Orzabal’s lyrics centring on mental functioning, therapy, psychology, etc., the group were often accused of angst-ridden pretension despite their pin-up status. Opening with the sweeping title track, the set also laid on the synths thick and fast as in the aforementioned singles, including a glowing re-vamp of `Pale Shelter’, their third Top 5 platter in a row; the exclusive `The Way You Are’ hit No.21 between albums.
By the release of the worldwide platinum, SONGS FROM THE BIG CHAIR (1985) {*9}, however, their focus had widened somewhat. Despite only hitting No.14 with `Mothers Talk’ the previous August, the dramatic but sprightly `Shout’ surprisingly took them to the top of the US charts, having already relaxed inside the UK Top 5. The uncharacteristically breezy guitar pop of `Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ was another massive transatlantic hit, further boosting sales of the album. Masterfully crafted, the record displayed a more considered and cathartic approach to both songwriting and arranging, while Orzabal and Smith had more or less ditched the bedsit whine of old; the sweet and sophisticated `Head Over Heels’ (another big hitter east and west) also proving fruitful.
The degree of their success was measured somewhat when the post-Band Aid-fixated nation of Britain exploited their most commercial track to date, and came up trumps with the Top 5 `Everybody Want To Run The World’ for the Sport Aid charity, the following summer.
But it was to be some time before TEARS FOR FEARS released a third set, the much- anticipated first for Fontana Records: THE SEEDS OF LOVE (1989) {*7}. Hitting the shelves in the autumn of ’89, a preceding single `Sowing The Seeds Of Love’ was an unintentionally clever take on The BEATLES’ `I Am The Walrus’, pre-empting OASIS’ more cumbersome efforts by a good few years. The whole album, in fact, displayed an even greater level of pop sophistication than its predecessor, boasting contributions from the likes of OLETA ADAMS and JON HASSELL. Gone too was Ian Stanley; superseded by Roland’s writing partner and female keyboardist (on more than half the set), Nicky Holland, who’d famously played on records by FUN BOY THREE. While the record initially sold well, however, tracks such as the soulful `Advice For The Young At Heart’ and `Woman In Chains’ (with Oleta), failed to generate much chart staying power, exacerbating the growing rift between Smith and Orzabal.
The pair finally split in the early 90s, engendering a covert slanging match similar to the JOHN SQUIRE/IAN BROWN jousting. Orzabal carried on under the TEARS FOR FEARS moniker, although subsequent releases, ELEMENTAL (1993) {*4} – highlighting only one major hit, `Break It Down Again’ – and RAOUL AND THE KINGS OF SPAIN (1995) {*4}, likewise, failed to scale the heights of the outfit’s mid-80s heyday, the latter not even breaking the Top 40.
Reunions often arise out of the most unpredictable of events, and none came more unpredictable than either Donnie Darko itself, or the fact that the movie’s soundtrack generated a huge UK hit in GARY JULES’ catatonic cover of `Mad World’. Meantime, ORZABAL was now solo in name. Unsuccessful in his attempt at rekindling the public’s interest a la TOMCATS SCREAMING OUTSIDE (2001) {*6} – CURT SMITH had been wayward with 1993’s `Soul On Board’ and 2000’s mini `Aeroplane’ – re-interest peaked by the unexpected cinematic tribute.
And with a musical climate once more favourable to 80s artifice, Roland and Curt put their differences behind them and convened to record a belated follow-up to their “Seeds” set in ’89. In the event, EVERYBODY LOVES A HAPPY ENDING (2004) {*6} – released a year on in homeland Britain – eschewed their 80s sound for a more forthright, singer-songwriterly approach in keeping with their advancing years. All shag-pile harmonies, BEATLES-esque verve and assiduously crafted arrangements, the album was actually more successful in the States (where it reached the Top 50) than in Britain, although they did score a solitary UK Top 40 hit with the soaring `Closest Thing To Heaven’.
Adding on tour, Charlton Pettus (lead guitar), Doug Petty (keyboards) and Nick D’Virgilio (drums), the French-only concert disc SECRET WORLD – LIVE IN PARIS (2005) {*6} ended the hurting once again; of late (2014) only the covers EP, `Ready Boys & Girls?’ – featuring `My Girls’ (ANIMAL COLLECTIVE), `Ready To Start’ (ARCADE FIRE) and `And I Was A Boy From School’ (HOT CHIP) – had been forthcoming. Over the years, a limited number of covers have comprised `Sea Song’ (ROBERT WYATT), `Creep’ (RADIOHEAD) and `Ashes To Ashes’ (DAVID BOWIE).
CURT SMITH went on to release 2008’s `Halfway, Pleased’ and 2013’s `Deceptively Heavy’.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Dec2015

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