Curt Smith and the improbably named Roland Jaime Orzabal De La Quintana met in Bath, England during the early 1970s. Orzabal thought Smith looked 'Indian' and vaguely interesting, whereas Smith thought Orzabal was a foreign exchange student. Hardly the best premise for forming their first band, but they went ahead and did so anyway.
The pop career of Smith and Orzabal got off to a rather poor start. The two were in a group called Graduate which, unfortunately, they weren't. They wanted to become famous pop stars, which they didn't. And to this end they released a single called Elvis Should Play Ska which, of course, he never did. And so after a few more singles and an LP Graduate came to an end.
Shortly afterwards they met Ian Stanley at a 'vegetarian disco' (whatever that means) who offered them the use of his home recording studio at a very reasonable zero cost. It was here that the pair wrote songs that would later become their first LP.
Tears for Fears first single Suffer the Children failed to make any impact on the UK charts but they quickly gained popularity and by their third single Mad World had hit the top 20. At the time (circa 1982) synth-pop duos were becoming increasingly popular: Soft Cell, Yazoo, etc. all slightly gothic in their dyed black hair and black clothing - Tears for Fears were no exception and constantly wore dark clothes and solemn expressions. The front cover of Mad World has Smith attempting to 'stare out' some ducks in what is otherwise a beautifully autumnal picture of a lake.
Tears for Fears had taken their name from a chapter in Arthur Janov's book on psychotherapy 'Prisoners of Pain'1 and their first album The Hurting (1983) was likewise inspired - full of tortured tales of childhood experiences on Bath council estates2. It was this that provided an intensity to their music that was lacking in the majority of other popular groups, and began to garner them a larger share of the pop market place.
'And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad,
The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had,
I find it hard to tell you 'cos I find it hard to take,
When people run in circles it's a very, very,
- Orzabal, Mad World, 1982
The album was suitably minimal for a synth-pop duo, synthesisers and drum machines playing a major role with relatively little guitar work from Orzabal. The whole album sounded sparse and, in some places, incredibly stark. Other than Mad World this intelligent album provided the singles Change, Pale Shelter and Suffer the Children together with some excellent album tracks: The Hurting, Memories Fade and Start of the Breakdown, all of which were live favourites at the time.
During recording Orzabal developed his interest in the production side of music and the pair soon bought their own studio. This led to a truly abysmal sixth single The Way You Are during the recording of which they "forgot about the song" (Orzabal), concentrating instead on creating 'interesting' sounds. Orzabal was later quoted as saying of the track
'I think this was the point at which we realised we had to change direction.'
- Roland Orzabal, 1996
And so they did.
Songs from the Big Chair
Tears for Fears' second album took its name from the TV mini-series 'Sybil' about a schizophrenic woman who only felt comfortable when sitting in her psychotherapists 'big chair'. Although the lyrical theme of The Hurting continued to some extent on Songs from the Big Chair the change in production quality was enormous. Whilst they retained use of keyboards (played in the main by Ian Stanley) Smith and Orzabal returned to their original bass and guitar. The album also featured a drummer (Manny Elias), a pianist (Nicky Holland) and a saxophonist (John Gregory). The entire LP sounded far more rounded than its predecessor and despite being released in 1985 is still a immensely pleasurable listening experience. It is albums like this one that justified the dawning of the CD age.
Mothers Talk, the first single from the LP, was a much more rhythm-heavy affair than anything the group had previously done, the pair going some way to emphasise this by titling the remixed 12" 'Beat of the Drum mix'. Shout was the release that propelled them towards mega-stardom. It was initially just a repeated chorus of
'Shout, shout, let it all out,
These are the things I can do without,
So come on, I'm talking to you,
- Orzabal/Stanley, Shout, 1984
but the addition of a verse and the producing talents of Chris Hughes3 generated a single that stayed in the UK singles chart for 16 weeks and reached number four in December of 1984. This was followed by the fantastic Head Over Heels, the perennial 80s disco favourite Everybody Wants to Rule the World and the soulful I Believe.
Everybody Wants to Run the World (a cunning re-title) was released in 1985 to promote the charity fun-runs organised alongside the Live Aid concerts, this time reaching a mere number 5 as opposed to the number 2 slot reached by the original release.
The Seeds of Love
Tears for Fears took longer to record their third album than would seem possible - four years. This was eventually put down to Smith and Orzabal being perfectionists, having been through a number of recording sessions and producers, including Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley who produced most of the Madness releases. The resultant LP was clear evidence of Orzabal's 'muso'4 mentality, it being full of star names (Phil Collins and Pino Palladino to name but two) and hideously self-centred music (witness Standing on the Corner of the Third World). The four singles from the album were great, the other four tracks were awful.
Sowing the Seeds of Love (the first LP release) was a beautiful Beatles pastiche (Orzabal freely admitted that it was his attempt to rewrite I am the Walrus) that lyrically was inspired by the decadence of the 1980s. One line was obviously a reference to the activites of Paul Weller5, something that Orzabal and Smith clearly found to be indicative of 'the decade that taste forgot':
'Kick out the Style, bring back the Jam'
- Orzabal/Smith, Sowing the Seeds of Love, 1989
It was to be Tears for Fears' last top ten single.
Of the other singles Advice for the Young at Heart stands out as being gorgeously sung by Curt Smith (Orzabal usually took the vocal duties) while Woman in Chains was used to showcase the talents of Oleta Adams who the pair discovered singing in a Kansas bar. She was credited as 'authenticating soul' but was not given a label credit until the reissue of the single three years later.
Tears Roll Down
In 1991 Orzabal together with producer Alan Griffiths remixed the b-side of Advice for the Young at Heart and released it under the name Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams - the same as the single title. Perhaps surprisingly the single fared rather well in clubs and in the UK dance singles chart.
After nearly 20 years of friendship Smith and Orzabal decided they had had enough of each other and Smith left the group. For the remainder of Tears for Fears' career the band was essentially Roland Orzabal working with a variety of session musicians6.
As a way of reassuring their fans a hasty 'best of' LP was released (Tears Roll Down) together with another b-side remix Laid So Low (Tears Roll Down), this time taken from the Sowing the Seeds of Love single.
Orzabal quickly (for him) set to work with Alan Griffiths and in 1993 put out Elemental, an album on which he tried desparately to reverse the unappealing muso trend of The Seeds of Love. The title track was a precursor for many a plodding indie-rock band while the drum-orientated Break it Down Again with its accompanying tempo changes and luscious vocals was deservedly a top 20 single in the UK.
The album on the whole showed a more 'rock' approach to music than had previously been demonstrated, indeed on the accompanying world tour Orzabal played a version of Radiohead (recommended)'s Creep. The stripped-down nature of the song proved that Orzabal understood the power of great music and did not need the stabs of distorted guitar present on the original. Lyrically the LP was a tirade against his former partner in crime, virtually every song contained lines that could be interpreted as referring to Curt Smith:
'It's in the way you're always hiding from the light,'
(The cover of The Seeds of Love depicted Orzabal as the sun and Smith as the moon.)
- Orzabal/Griffiths, Break it Down Again, 1993
'Listen Mr Pessimister,
With your Catholic taste,
Oh listen Mr Pessimister Pessimister,
We do not relate.'
- Orzabal/Griffiths, Mr Pessimist, 1993
and best of all
'You always said you were the compassionate one,
But now you're laughing at the sun.
With all your high class friends you think you've got it made,
The only thing you made was that tanned look on your face.'
'We used to sit and talk about primal scream,
To exorcise our past was our adolescent dream.'
- Orzabal/Griffiths, Fish Out of Water, 1993
Raoul and the Kings of SpainRaoul and the Kings of Spain was Tears for Fears' last album and was the one where, finally, Orzabal stopped bemoaning the past. He claimed it "encapsulates what Tears for Fears were on about. It was my statement, in mature form.". His opinion that it is his finest work is, well, his opinion, but it is not the opinion of many others.
It was, however, a very complete album and, like The Seeds of Love featured some star names, but unlike The Seeds of Love their talents were muted and used to good effect. There were some good songs - God's Mistake and Goodnight Song were both released as singles and Los Reyes Catolicos demonstrated once again Orzabal's talent for creating beautiful music. But the stand out song (and Tears for Fears' last top 40 single) was the title track - a soaring tribute to all the musicians involved. The guitar was simple yet catchy (how it should be), the drumming was spot-on and melded perfectly with the other instruments, and the vocals sounded more confident than Orzabal ever had before.
After the Tears Had Fallen
Since leaving Tears for Fears Curt Smith has released two albums: 1993's Soul on Board and in 1998 an eponymous LP recorded with his new band Mayfield. Do not touch either with a barge-pole.
Six years after Raoul and the Kings of SpainRoland Orzabal released his first LP under his own name: Tomcats Screaming Outside. While it still contained evidence of his muso mentality (one song even had a bass solo!) with tracks like the Led Zeppelin-esque Dandelion and the Massive Attack inspired Under Ether it was a superb return to form.
Fontana/Mercury Records have, since 1993's Elemental (the label's last Tears for Fears album) released three new 'best of' compilations: Saturnine Martial and Lunatic (1996) included many b-sides and a two a-sides not available on Tears Roll Down (Johnny Panic... and The Way You Are). The Millenium Collection (2000) contained several of the band's better known works, along with remixes of Mothers Talk and Change, and the b-side Pharaohs. The Working Hour - an introduction to Tears for Fears (2001) featured a few singles alongside album tracks such as the marvellous The Hurting and the appalling Standing on the Corner of the Third World.
Orzabal and Smith also confirmed they had spoken to each other for the first time in nearly 10 years, and at the time of writing (July 2001) have written 4 new songs together, which they claim will definitely be released 'at some point' in the future.
|Title||Release Date||Record Label||Comment|
|The Hurting||1983||Mercury||Stark synth-pop, featuring Start of the Breakdown and Memories Fade along with four single a-sides|
|Songs from the Big Chair||1985||Mercury||An LP that everyone should own - all eight tracks could have been singles instead of just the five|
|The Seeds of Love||1989||Fontana||Over-produced MOR that sometimes works (Sowing the Seeds of Love and Famous Last Words) but often doesn't|
|Tears Roll Down (Greatest Hits 82-92)||1992||Fontana||Featuring all Tears for Fears singles to that date except Suffer the Children, The Way You Are and Famous Last Words|
|Elemental||1993||Mercury||A more 'rock' approach to music, featuring the singles Goodnight Song, Break it Down Again and Cold|
|Raoul and the Kings of Spain||1995||Epic||Another guitar-based album, featuring Los Reyes Catolicos, God's Mistake and the superb title track|
|Saturnine Martial and Lunatic||1996||Fontana||Essentially a b-sides compilation (most of which are great), featuring Pharaohs, Schrodinger's Cat and a version of David Bowie's Ashes to Ashes|
|The Millennium Collection: The best of Tears for Fears||2000||Mercury||Not much to recommend this to anyone who owns Tears Roll Down except perhaps the extended mix of Change, a US remix of Mothers Talk and the brilliant b-side Pharaohs|
|The Working Hour - an introduction to Tears for Fears||2001||Mercury||An interesting collection with a few dubious choices, featuring the excellent The Hurting and a US remix of Shout|