Tears for Fears is one of those bands with a perfect debut recording – in their case 1983’s The Hurting. Arriving near to Peter Gabriel’s 3rd album, it also echoes some of Kate Bush’s iconic The Dreaming. The Hurting had an additional angle – it made fantastic new wave dance music typified by “Mad World,” “Pale Shelter” and “Change.” The dynamics of that work were further demonstrated to all in videos sporting angular dance moves from Curt Smith (bass, vocals) and Roland Orzabal (guitars, vocals). The debut was re-released recently in a crystal clear pressing, including all the b-sides, concert audio, and a DVD of the live show called In My Mind’s Eye recorded on the supporting tour from December 1983 at London’s Hammersmith Odeon theater
What made The Hurting special for me was its darkness – the use of synths to create the complexities described in the lyrics – the somber, moody “Ideas as Opiates” and the triumphant “Memories Fade”interspersed between the more radio friendly hits. Childhood memories and primal scream therapy turned into sound via lots of the black keys. B-sides with new songs such as “Broken” held for their sophomore release hinted at more of the same to come.
But as the group moved to record their second album they made a key decision about their future. Their sound mellowed out – more guitars, less synth and a more accessible record overall in Songs From the Big Chair (1985) which was a massive success in both the US and UK. Mega hits “Shout” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” seemed to be on every new wave and pop radio playlist. The aforementioned “Broken” was turned into an abbreviated live version driven by Roland’s guitar and stripped of the synth and drum loops and interrupted by the happy song “Head Over Heels.” Great album but a marked shift to light from the darker earlier sound.
By the third Tears for Fears record Seeds of Love (1989), there was even a more pop and jazz feel with the addition of Oleta Adams (Keys, vocals) on “Woman in Chains” and a Beatlesque “Sowing the Seeds of Love” to lead things off. With “Advice for the Young at Heart” I felt the band had moved on to an excessively softer pop plane. This album also brought the band additional success, but the marked shits in tone from record to record left fans like me behind and reduced their appeal over time. After these initial works the band split, Roland took the helm to do two more albums and they re-teamed for two more, now reportedly working on their seventh album overall.
Nevertheless I’ve always had fond memories of this group as have so many, and it was with decent expectations that we queued up to see them play at the Fox Theater in Oakland California on September 24th 2014. And, the show was indeed a decent pop concert. Both Roland and particularly Curt were in fine voice – hitting all their high notes, along with one backup singer who sounded fabulous. The band worked it’s way through several tracks on each of their first three albums, along with a couple newer ones, and a cover of an Arcade Fire song. On both this cover, and their earliest work from The Hurting, the band softened the more dramatic, desperate sounds to go along with their more pop friendly work. So yes, we got “Mad World” and even “Memories Fade” but we got them a bit stripped of their original darker dynamics. So, for those expecting soft pop sounds with a smile, all was well, and the show would be considered a success. For this viewer who hoped for a bit more dark to go with the light, I’ve got the new box set of The Hurting, so that those memories don’t fade too far away!