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Class ?

Main Category: Synth Pop
Also applicable: Mope Rock, Pop Rock
Starting Period: The Divided Eighties
Also active in: From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Tears For Fears fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Tears For Fears fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1983

One thing becomes clear to me as the sound of this album blows through my ears again and again... it's a perverse historical curiosity that Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith just had to invent their own brand of musical therapy in the synth-pop era. I simply cannot dismiss or condemn this album; the more I listen to it, the more I realize it is really an honest, sincere, and elaborate piece of work. They were obviously taking some cues from Peter Gabriel ('The Prisoner' is said to have been directly influenced by PG's 'Intruder'), and even more so from Depeche Mode, but in some ways actually went deeper than both of these, working with Doctor Janov's books in hands yet somehow preserving a careful balance between the scientific and the emotional element in the music.

Unfortunately, the music itself is excruciatingly boring; only a tenth part of the effort that went into creating the lyrics and the proper way to sing them went into creating interesting melodies and arrangements, or even less, because there's next to nothing interesting going on here in the way of sound textures. It's just your average run-of-the-mill synth-pop, not particularly offensive but never enlightening either - to be honest, there's enough acoustic and electric guitarwork on the album so it doesn't sound entirely lifeless, but not a single interesting synth riff, not a single interesting special effect; these guys were good at learning existing sonic patterns but The Hurting doesn't add anything to it.

Which explains why on my first listen I absolutely hated the album, but I should have known better. It's actually not about the music, it's all about the singing and vocal delivery power; the music happens to merely be a not-too-significant atmospheric background (which is why I'd love to see these guys working on this stuff, oh say, in the late Seventies instead, when they were actually content with reviving ska in the now-forgotten band Graduate). And once you concentrate on the purely emotional side of the album, it suddenly clicks. For one thing, there's total dedication to the subject - and the subject is exploring your inner fears and dealing with your own instability, so the album is dark and depressing in a very convincing way. Maybe even more so than your average Depeche Mode album, too, because these guys bring in emotion and vulnerability where Depeche Mode mainly brought in robotic coldness.

And then again, there's the vocal hooks, which aren't instantly grappling, I'd say, but work over time, so that it actually pays off to give this piece o' plastic a few extra spins to discover something you might have missed. 'Mad World', for instance, is a special favourite of mine, because when Roland starts going '...and I find it kinda funny, I find it kinda sad...', there's this weird desperate fire in his voice that just gets me going (coupled with impressive and memorable phrasing, of course; this ain't no R'n'B for you to be hooked on mere emotion). Even more of a favourite is 'Pale Shelter', a gorgeously vocalized composition which just begs for a less trivial arrangement - goddammit, there's this beautiful verse melody ('how can I be sure...'), then it skips into this catchy well-written chorus ('you don't give me love, you give me cold hands'), and it's all done to an annoying basic electronic drum beat and outdated disco basslines.

Roland's wonderful singing voice again saves the beautiful 'Memories Fade', one more reminiscence about how there's but one step from boring adult contemporary to genius. Yes, you could argue that when he raises that chorus up to the '...will I ever love agaaaaaain?' climax, it's essentially nothing but cliched New Romantic kind of delivery, and maybe you're right, but goshdarnit, I'm not that much of an extravagance-obsessed freak to deny conventional beauty when it is beauty, so sue me, crucify me, I think that the vocal melody of 'Memories Fade' is beautiful, even if everything else in the song is totally elevator-quality.

I do have to admit that the more I look at the actual lyrics, the more they turn out to be obnoxiously straightforward. Er, correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't the lyrical message of 'Suffer The Children' seem like it comes straight out of a boring psychology book? Oops, wait a minute, so it probably does... well, whaddaya want, they were just two half-literate kids seeking refuge in weird psychological theories. (That's hardly much worse than your average Roger Waters). But they're not dumb or anything, and in this situation it could have come out much worse. And it still doesn't wipe out the beauty of 'Memories Fade', nor does it wipe all the anguish and torture from 'Watch Me Bleed', the album's best "synth-rocker".

In short, it's just another one of those records that some people can pray upon, while others will mercilessly grind it down - and it's pretty easy to perform either of these actions. I don't see any necessity to put it down, though, unless you let your hate of generic synth-pop overshadow everything else; it's obviously nowhere near "masterpiece" status, but believe me, there have been much, much, MUCH worse Eighties records. In droves.



Year Of Release: 1985

There have been much worse Eighties records than this one, too. (But there have also been much better). Our Famous Therapeutic Sessions continue - we've established the root of the problem, now we have to find the solution. And that solution? 'Shout, shout, let it all out!'. I wonder if Doctor Janov ever got any royalties off these guys. Probably not.

There are two major problems with this album: (a) the soft songs and (b) the long songs. Since just about every song on here is long, and about a third of them soft, this automatically excludes me from being tremendously excited about it. The production, as expected, is as annoyingly Eighties as it ever gets and more so (which actually makes me suspect that these guys just originally went into the studio, yelled "we want the best that today can offer!" and grabbed everything they were given without even testing it or anything).And the main problem with it, of course, is that whatever serious message these guys actually have to offer - and they're certainly better at offering serious message than their more straightforward synth-pop colleagues like Duran Duran - it just gets lost under all the layers and layers of synths and drum machines. Look, how am I supposed to penetrate the sensitive soul of Mr Orzabal if it's buried so goddamn deep? I can't SEE it!

At least I can see the songwriting talent. I don't know why so many songs run for five or six minutes when they get everything necessary pronounced in about three, at max four, but I confess some of the final "grooves", with multiple overdubbed vocals, actually work - at times. 'Shout', for instance, unquestionably the best choice for an explosive opener, has a magnificent rousing chorus that drags on and on, but it does succeed because Orzabal and Smith develop a gloomy, almost threatening crescendo, adding more and more of those sonic layers and vocal harmonies with each step. The funny thing is, while the song is essentially a call to all the depressed people to follow the band's example, it doesn't at all feel preachy or moronic - maybe because you get to know that these guys aren't really faking it, and that it's actually a deeply personal revelation. Now I know I just said I couldn't get to the depths of Mr Orzabal's soul, but this is certainly a major exception - 'Shout' just screams "PAIN! PAIN! PAIN!" all over the place.

And if you like the song, there's plenty more excellent material - some of it mildly overlong, but never hookless. 'Everybody Wants To Rule The World' is a rare example of those mid-tempo four-four "martial" stompers (so beloved by out-of-touch rockers like late Rod Stewart) where the song in question is saved by an immaculate, intricate, vocal hook. You listen to that song and tell me these guys didn't have melodic talent. They did. There's even enough jangly guitar on this track to render it listenable to those guys who burn huge packs of Depeche Mode albums every Sunday. 'Mothers Talk' has nothing to do with Frank Zappa, but instead is one of the funkiest tracks in the band's catalog - and I could easily see it done by somebody like Prince. (That's a compliment, in case you suspected the opposite to one). The mini-suite of 'Broken/Head Over Heels' is also excellent, and I could easily see it done by somebody like Madonna. (Okay, this is getting out of hand. Need to stop the analogies NOW.).

Anyhoo, these are all good songs. Spoiled by the production, sure enough, but don't get derailed by that. Look beyond the surface and there - now and then - you'll find a glistening juicy hook, a cool driving rhythm, and lots and lots of anguish and bleakness (and occasionally optimism). Now the other two or three songs that I haven't mentioned actually suck. 'The Working Hour' is very long and very trickily arranged, and apparently is a very important song to the album's "concept", but my ears exclusively perceive it as generic Eighties fodder; if you wanna hear a tastefully arranged sentimental adult contemporary ballad, go listen to Sade's debut, where saxophones are actually put to good effect. The piano ballad 'I Believe', by contrast, is extremely stripped-down, but Orbazal is no Paul McCartney, heck, he ain't even no Elton John, and stiff sequences of four or five piano notes played over and over don't constitute a good song in my book. And finally, the last song, 'Listen', is just an excruciatingly long mood-piece that works for about a third of its duration (and even that third sounds like the above-mentioned Paul McCartney stole half of the ideas for Press To Play from it).

So you see I can't think of this record as a masterpiece. You can also see now why the Eighties sucked so much - had these guys been writing the same melodies in the Sixties, or even in the Seventies, when they couldn't mask the occasional gaps in creativity by booming drum machines and echoey production, this album at least would have sounded far, far more acceptable to today's ears. Of course, it still is, but I doubt most people would ever want to give it a second chance, which it definitely deserves.


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