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Members include Manny Elias, drums; Roland Orzabal (born c. 1961), guitar, keyboard, vocals; Curt Smith (born c. 1961), bass, vocals; Ian Stanley, keyboards. Addresses: Office---Tears for Fears World Service, P.O. Box 4ZN, London WIA 4ZN, England. Website---Tears for Fears Official Website: http://www.tearsforfears.net.
Representatives of "moody, introverted British pop," according to John Rockwell in the New York Times, the rock group Tears for Fears combines weighty lyrics of self-exploration with a compelling and sensual pop sound. Composed of founders Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, Tears for Fears rose to prominence with their multi-platinum second album, Songs From the Big Chair, followed in 1989 by the equally-successful Sowing the Seeds of Love. Although some detractors originally likened the group to what Rick G. Karr in Stereo Review called "overzealous college freshmen who have read too much and understood too little," several critics have lauded Tears for Fears as accomplished and innovative pop musicians. Rockwell claimed that Songs From the Big Chair, produced predominantly with synthesizers, "knits several strands of introspective English art-rock into an exquisitely textured, often haunting expression of youthful angst." Four years later, Sowing the Seeds of Love, featuring a revamped, more politically-directed Tears for Fears, was praised by Ira Robbins in Rolling Stone as "a challenging, ambitious album" with "forays into jazz pop, blues and soul---plus delicious Beatles parody."
Orzabal and Smith both hail from Bath, in southwestern England. They began playing music together when they were two unhappy thirteen-year-olds from broken homes. Their first recording, "The Sounds of Silence," was made at a Bath music center when they were fifteen, and three years later the duo was playing gigs in local clubs, experimenting with various forms of rock 'n' roll and folk music. Shortly thereafter, Orzabal and Smith formed their first band, Graduate, with three other musicians, specializing in what David Fricke in Rolling Stone called "Beatlesque power pop." Constrained by the group, however, Orzabal and Smith broke away in the early 1980s to focus on their own sound and explore their interest in the theories of psychotherapist Arthur Janov and his concept of the primal scream. Janov's theories hold that emotional disorders stem from painful early recognition of parental abandonment, and that direct confrontation, such as rage---the "primal scream"---is essential for adult mental health. Like John Lennon in his album, Plastic Ono Band, Orzabal and Smith found musical inspiration in Janov's theories, which also provided the basis for their name, Tears for Fears.
Joined by keyboardist Ian Stanley, another ex-Graduate member, Tears for Fears began writing songs and experimenting with synthesizers, releasing a demo of "Pale Shelter" which landed the group a recording contract. Together with drummer Manny Elias, the group began working in London recording studios, and in 1983 their first album, The Hurting, was released. Despite mixed reviews, The Hurting enjoyed respectable sales, was popular in dance clubs, and spawned three top-five singles in England. A number of reviewers complained that the album, with cuts such as "Mad World," "Suffer the Children," and "Pale Shelter," was too depressing or, as Orzabal told Dave DiMartino in Creem, "too stoic, too reflective." Although Fricke, writing in Musician, praised the music of The Hurting as "an artful compromise between pure electronics and classic pop instrumentation, blending slick synthesizer gimmickry with hypnotic staccato guitar effects and sensitive piano figures," he added that the lyrics made the group seem too "obsessed with their own troubled youth, dissecting with almost masochistic glee their sundered romances and smallest psychological tremors like transistorized James Taylors and Jackson Brownes."
A follow-up Tears for Fears single, "The Way You Are," was unsuccessful, and in 1984 producer Chris Hughes suggested the group leave recording studios and retreat to Stanley's home to work. The suggestion proved valuable as over the course of the year Tears for Fears wrote the songs that would constitute the hugely successful album, Songs From the Big Chair. Achieving a more commercial sound, the album--bolstered by the hit singles "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" and "Shout"--became one of 1985's biggest sellers in both the United States and England. Suddenly Orzabal and Smith found themselves internationally famous music stars. Reviewer Freff in Musician commented on the appeal of Songs From the Big Chair, calling it "a significant advance over The Hurting: bigger and stronger in all ways, and considerably more cheerful, for all the continued intensity of its lyrical content." Although Orzabal remarked in Rolling Stone that the album represented "watered-down Tears for Fears," reviewers were nonetheless impressed with the accomplishment. Rockwell, commenting about the group's "haunting expression of youthful angst," described "Shout" as an "exhortatory anthem deploring mindless conformism," and "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," an "airy blues shuffle, [which] talks indirectly about personal power, responsibility and nuclear peril."
Four years would pass before Tears for Fears would release another album and, judging from critical response, the result was worth the wait. Relying on the financial independence gained from the success of Songs From the Big Chair, Orzabal and Smith set out to explore a new creative direction, wanting to, in Robbins' words, "expand their stylistic and emotional range." They enlisted the services of more live musicians, including songwriter Nicky Holland, former musical director for Fun Boy Three, and Oleta Adams, a rhythm and blues singer who Orzabal and Smith discovered in 1985 at a Kansas City night club. Released in 1989, Sowing the Seeds of Love, according to Stephen Holden in the New York Times, possessed a "sound ... much warmer, more spacious and more acoustical than its predecessor, whose chilly textures were electronically produced." The album's title track, a top ten hit on American charts, recalls the Beatles's "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and "I Am the Walrus" and, according to Holden, "lovingly imitates the treadmill rhythms, trumpet-laced textures and exhortatory mood" of the former. Other cuts on the album, such as "Woman in Chains" and "Standing on the Corner of the Third World" show the group's concern with political issues such as feminism and poverty. A reviewer in People praised Tears for Fears's new direction, calling the album "warmly human" and "more soulful."
Orzabal explained to Karr the direction of Sowing the Seeds of Love: "When we first started, technology was very anti-rock-establishment. Now it's the dominant force in pop music. Meanwhile, the unreal element of recording and video is increasing. To maintain our stance---outside the mainstream---we've had to move away from our roots, go back to a more organic sound." Orzabal told Karr that their next album should "be a bit more forward-looking.... We borrowed heavily from the Seventies and Sixties: the Beatles, Little Feat, Steely Dan. I'd like to take that further but introduce some more innovative things."
In 1991, however, Smith, who had gone through a divorce during the production Sowing the Seeds of Love, left the band. He moved to the United States, eventually remarried, and moved to Los Angeles. Orzabal continued to record under the Tears for Fears name, releasing Elemental with Epic in 1993 and Raoul and the Kings of Spain, also with Epic, in 1995. Smith released a solo album, Mayfield, on the Zero Disc label in 1998, and Orzabal released his own solo work, Tomcats Screaming Outside on the Eagle label in 2001. During the 1990s, they went years without speaking to each other, but eventually they had to talk on the phone regarding some old band business, and they became friends again. They decided to work together again. Smith told Kevin O'Hare in the Houston Chronicle, "If the music wasn't good or we weren't enjoying it, we weren't going to do it."
In 2003, Orzabal and Smith reunited and signed with Arista Records, releasing Everybody Loves a Happy Ending in 2004. O'Hare wrote in the Houston Chronicle that the album was "a masterful blend of provocative, Beatle-esque pop, filled with richly melodic songs, artful arrangements, thundering rhythms and thoughtful wordplay." Smith told O'Hare, "I think this is the best album we've ever made. To me it's just incredibly mature." He added, "There was not one moment in this whole process where we felt unsure." He also commented on whether there would be a market for the group's return: "I think there's always a market for good music." He added, "It's about personal satisfaction, and if I'm happy with it, then all is good."
by Michael E. Mueller and Kelly Winters
Tears for Fears's Career
Group formed in Bath, England, 1982; the band dissolved after recording Sowing the Seeds of Love in 1989; Orzabal continued to record under the Tears for Fears name, releasing Elemental with Epic in 1993 and Raoul and the Kings of Spain, also with Epic, in 1995; Smith released a solo album, Mayfield, on the Zero Disc label in 1998, and Orzabal released his own solo work, Tomcats Screaming Outside on the Eagle label in 2001; the band reunited and signed with Arista Records, 2003; released Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, 2004.
- Selected discography
- (With Ian Stanley and Manny Elias) The Hurting Mercury, 1983.
- (With Stanley and Elias) "The Way You Are" (single), 1984.
- (With Stanley and Elias) Songs From the Big Chair Polygram, 1985.
- (With Nicky Holland, Oleta Adams, and others) Sowing the Seeds of Love Fontana, 1989.
- Everybody Loves a Happy Ending Arista, 2004.
- Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 14, 2004, p. E9.
- Billboard Bulletin, October 7, 2003, p. 2.
- Creem, May 1985.
- Houston Chronicle, September 19, 2004, p. 5.
- Melody Maker, March 9, 1985; October 19, 1985; August 19, 1989; August 26, 1989; November 25, 1989.
- Musician, November 1983; September 1985.
- New York Times, August 4, 1985; October 7, 1985; February 9, 1986; September 27, 1989; February 21, 1990.
- People, November 13, 1989.
- Rolling Stone, June 6, 1985; November 2, 1989; November 16, 1989; December 14, 1989; April 5, 1990.
- San Francisco Chronicle, September 19, 2004, p. 50.
- Stereo Review, October 1990.
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