Not many people dig music from the 1980s. To a degree, I understand why. Sandwiched between the monstrous artistry of album-oriented rock bands of the ’70s and the mainstream-busting advances of grunge and rap in the ’90s, most of the music of the ’80s was characterized by an emphasis on image (i.e.: MTV) and artifice (why hire a drummer when you can buy a Linn LM-1?).
But a good song – whether it’s a hit or not – will transcend its labels and packaging and hopefully turn into something you’ll want to hear over and over again. I can think of no better example of this phenomenon than Tears for Fears.
I got pretty fiercely hooked on TFF in college – and who wouldn’t be, really? The group’s first three LPs – 1983’s The Hurting, 1985’s Songs from the Big Chair and 1989’s The Seeds of Love – are not only engaging for their songs, but for their evolution as well. The Hurting was a dark, New Wave type album heavy on introspection and psychoanalysis. This gave way to Big Chair, contextualized those themes on a bigger playing field, both lyrically (not just self against self, but self against others) and sonically (keyboards now mixed with heavier guitars and fresher drum sounds). The Seeds of Love would take that evolution even further (way more live instrumentation, more big-picture lyrics).
The group’s core members, Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, would split up after Seeds, leaving Orzabal to carry the TFF moniker through a pair of good-but-not-great albums in the 1990s. But the duo would reconvene in the 2000s, releasing Everybody Loves a Happy Ending in 2004 and playing gigs here and there around the world.
Along the way, the band’s catalogue has seen its share of reissuing and remastering. If nothing else, the handling of the catalogue proves that Tears for Fears is much more than an ’80s synth-pop band – although for every catalogue title it seems there’s some material that could have been.
Now, in honor of Songs from the Big Chair, which was released a quarter-century ago today, The Second Disc presents a look back at the catalogue titles of Tears for Fears.
The Hurting (Mercury, 1983 – reissued 1999)
Tears for Fears’ first record is considerably different from the rest. There’s much more artifice both in lyrics (almost all of the songs draw inspiration from the work of Arthur Janov, father of primal therapy) and production (Orzabal’s underrated guitar work shows up here, but the synths are the star). Still, there’s a lot of keepers here, including “Mad World” (later made famous by Gary Jules in 2001) and “Memories Fade,” (later made kind of famous by Kanye West in 2008). The reissue had a handful of 12″ remixes, including one that had never been released (an alternate remix of “Pale Shelter”).
Songs from the Big Chair (Mercury, 1985 – reissued 1999 and 2006)
The high watermark of not only Tears for Fears, but the mid-’80s as well. It spun off a good amount of singles, but it’s a thoroughly cohesive album both musically (the track “Broken” spins off both “Head Over Heels” and “Mothers Talk,” if you know what to listen to) and aesthetically. Rather than gaze inward as on The Hurting, TFF took the current climate of fear, bad ecomony and nuclear paranoia and sung outward about it. Plus, seriously, “Shout” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” just own radio to pieces. Such was Big Chair‘s influence that it was reissued twice. The 1999 remaster was the biggest of the three, adding seven bonus tracks (including, for whatever reason, some Hurting-era B-sides). UMe expanded it to double disc status with more B-sides and remixes in 2006, but it omitted two of the songs on the previous remaster, meaning completists need both versions. It’s not the complete picture either; some tracks (the U.K. 12″ version of “Shout” and the bizarre remix “Everybody Wants to Run the World,” done for Sport Aid in 1986) have yet to come out on CD in the U.S.
Scenes from the Big Chair (Polygram, 1985 – reissued 2006)
Released parallel to the Big Chair reissue in 2006 was this really nice documentary chronicling life on the road for the band as they began to take off. The DVD isn’t the best in terms of packaging (there is a picture on the back cover from another live show, unreleased on DVD, from The Seeds of Love era), but it has some awesome special features, including a half-hour interview with Big Chair producer Chris Hughes and all the videos that accompanied the album.
The Seeds of Love (Mercury, 1989 – reissued 1999)
The most ambitious Tears for Fears album took four years to come out, and its diverse musical stylings were seen by some as pretentious. But the record is a satisfying one, both on a pop level (“Sowing the Seeds of Love” has to be one of the best songs The Beatles never did) and on a deeper, soulful level (such as the astounding duet “Woman in Chains,” which marked the debut of R&B/gospel singer Oleta Adams). The 1999 reissue included four B-sides, including the mostly-instrumental “Tears Roll Down,” which would have a prominent place in the next phase of the band’s output.
Tears Roll Down: Greatest Hits 82-92 (Mercury, 1992 – reissued 2004)
This compilation – a decent overview of the band’s hits, but only a few of them are presented in their true single forms (that includes “I Believe” and “Mothers Talk,” for whatever reason) – also includes a new track, “Laid So Low (Tears Roll Down),” a reworking of a Seeds B-side. It was reissued in 2004 with a largely unnecessary bonus disc of mostly contemporary remixes (released on its own in Japan as The Best of Remixes). The few vintage cuts are all improperly labelled, including the exact same version of “Head Over Heels” that was on the proper hits disc.
Raoul and the Kings of Spain (Epic, 1995 – reissued 2009)
Of all the “solo” Tears for Fears records, Raoul – intended for a release on Mercury until the band was suddenly dropped and moved to Epic – is perhaps the hardest to get into. It’s moody, it’s grumpy and it’s perhaps a bit too artistic for its own good. Still, there are some really strong songs here (the first four songs are just killer) and there’s even a sweet reunion with Oleta Adams on “Me and My Big Ideas.” Last year, Cherry Red did a fantastic job with this reissue, adding seven B-sides to the mix. Some of them are better than what’s on the album (and in one case, “Queen of Compromise,” nearly did make the record – promo versions on Mercury had that track in place of two others, “Humdrum and Humble” and “I Choose You”). Hardcore fans will still want to seek out the eighth B-side from this era: a left-field live cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” included on the CD single of “God’s Mistake” in the U.S.
Saturnine, Martial and Lunatic (Mercury, 1996)
This B-sides compilation was rendered half-obsolete by the 1999 reissues, but there’s still some good stuff to find here. Not only are there a bunch of B-sides from the Elemental album of 1993 (the only older TFF LP that hasn’t been reissued), there’s a pair of great Seeds of Love-era tracks (“Woman in Chains” B-side “My Life in the Suicide Ranks” and the rare single mix of “Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams”) that weren’t on the reissue from ’99.
Shout: The Very Best of Tears for Fears (Mercury, 2000)
A more thorough, chronological view of the band’s Mercury-era output, this is easily the best single-disc TFF set for your money. All the hit single versions are included, as well as “New Star,” a B-side from the Elemental period. It’s inexplicable as to why a generic 20th Century Masters disc was released almost simultaneously.
Gold (Mercury/Hip-O, 2006)
While this generic compilation is the most comprehensive, covering even the Raoul album, and has a few bonus cuts (the hard-to-find “Floating Down the River” and a new live version of “Mad World”), I’m pretty hard on this one because of what it was supposed to be. Legend has it that this set was originally intended to be a career-spanning box, including a bunch of rarities that had missed inclusion on the previous remasters. The usual record company shuffling of feet ensued, and this set was quietly dumped into stores. Perhaps the box that could have been will end up a reality someday.