I hadn’t spotted till now that that Tears For Fears haven’t ever featured specifically on the blog before, and that this post will provide their first ever entry into the big index.

Today’s effort was inspired by me picking up, at a reasonable price, a second-hand vinyl copy of the 1983 debut album, The Hurting.  It’s a record I bought back in the day, but for whatever reason has been missing from the collection for decades. I might have loaned it to someone and never got it back, but equally, I could have given it away on the basis that I really didn’t take to its follow-up, Songs From The Big Chair (1985) which went in a rather different direction – more bombastic yet more instantly accessible – that didn’t resonate with me at all.  It’s the hit singles from the latter, and in particular Everybody Wants To Rule The World, which are a staple product of shows looking back at the 80s, and it’s a sound which hasn’t aged well at all.

Tears For Fears were not liked by many of the music writers back in 1983, as can be evidenced by this scathing review in the NME:-

“This record and others like it are a terrible, useless sort of art that makes self-pity and futility a commercial proposition, Tears for Fears and their listeners sound like they’ve given up completely, retreating from the practical world into a fantasy. The music is just the sort of doom-laden dross you’d expect from the lyrics: rehashed and reheated hollow doom with a bit of Ultravox here, diluted Joy Division poured everywhere, and the title track sounding suspiciously like one of the old pompous outfits with a welter of mellotrons – Barclay James Harvest per chance?” (Gavin Martin, NME 12 March 1983)


The interesting thing for me is that a new generation of writers, picking up on the 30th Anniversary edition back in 2013, were happy to reflect on it in much the same manner as I had back in the day, albeit I didn’t fully comprehend how deep and dark it really was, subject wise.  In summary, and my recent re-connection with the record confirmed it, this is a work in which quite serious, difficult and often uncomfortably personal subject matters manage to somehow resonate with a willing audience while finding its way into the pop charts as a result of the music, certainly for the songs selected as singles, being so instantly catchy.

There is also a belated recognition that this particular album proved to be a big influence on many who would follow years later.  I’m not all that familiar with the work of Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails, but from what I’ve read, it’s almost as if he took the template of The Hurting and made a huge and successful career out of it.

It was certainly a very interesting and enjoyable experience listening to The Hurting in its entirety again after a gap of at least 30 years.  I really can’t hear too many Joy Division comparisons, but there are occasional reminders that Peter Gabriel‘s third solo album from 1980 was a huge influence on the way synth-pop/rock would evolve in the 80s, not least on the opening title track:-

mp3: Tears For Fears – The Hurting

This is followed by two of the hit singles – Mad World (#3) and Pale Shelter (#5) – with the former becoming even more well-known in 2003 when a dark, broody, piano-led ballad version by Gary Jules, from the soundtrack to the film Donnie Darko, went to #1, thanks to the film becoming a success when it was released on DVD two years after it had more or less flopped at the cinema box office.   The original version of Mad World is a tremendously deceptive song – it is packed with the sort of music that gets you throwing shapes on the dance floor but has a lyric that, when you sit down and read/analyse it, is very much a cry for help in coping with a very severe depression and feelings of helplessness.  It’s a genuinely astonishing work of art, all things considered.

mp3 : Tears For Fears – Mad World

Side One of the album closes on a couple of downbeat numbers, as can be evidenced from their titles – Ideas As Opiates, and Memories Fade.   Given that so many debut albums often feature material drawn from personal circumstances, you have to wonder what sort of fucked up life had been endured by songwriter Roland Orzabal, who was just 21 years old when these songs were recorded.  Let’s just say, I reflected on these songs, and indeed many of the others, in a way that I couldn’t possibly have done as a carefree, relatively happy-go-lucky, boy about town in the early 80s.

mp3: Tears For Fears – Memories Fade

The upbeat music which opens side two again acts as something of a disguise for the subject matters at hand in the songs Suffer The Children and Watch Me Bleed.  And again, I found myself wondering why I hadn’t picked up just how dark an album this is.  And then, almost out of the blue, the most instantly accessible, almost disposable track starts to come out of the speakers:-

mp3: Tears For Fears – Change

Another of the hit singles – a #4 hit around the time that the album came out.  I hadn’t actually realised this was the case until doing a bit of fact-checking for this post, and had always assumed Mad World had been the single to promote the album.  Turns out that it had actually been an earlier hit in late 1982, meaning that fans were already on the look-out for Change as its follow-up before a long-player hit the shops.

All of which goes to show that the record label and the duo were pulling a neat trick on the pop world at the time.  The cute one, Curt Smith, was the vocalist and who got most attention.  The first two singles were tailor-made for radio, but then the album, which turns out to be having been written entirely by the other bloke in the band, has loads of tunes that the pop kids wouldn’t enjoy, nor would daytime radio be comfortable playing them.  This is especially the case with its final two songs – The Prisoner and Start Of The Breakdown – with the former sounding like the sort of thing which would bring sleepless nights to the early-teen readers of Smash Hits and then, a few years later, trigger off some sort of psychoticly violent incident that they can’t explain to their despairing parents….or the authorties who have just locked them up.

mp3: Tears For Fears – The Prisoner

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my trip down memory lane with The Hurting.  It’s an album I liked in 1983, and it’s one I can really better understand and appreciate more in 2021.  But you’ll never convince me that I should be devoting any time to its follow-up.


19 thoughts on “THE HURTING

  1. Tears For Fears and The Hurting greatly moved me as a pre-teen when it came out. I guess I was gravitating towards the ‘moody teen’ phase back then. I like the album very much but I absolutely agree that, aside from Shout, Songs From The Big Chair onwards could almost be a different band. You’re spot on about the album’s themes: American psychologist & psychotherapist Arthur Janov was a massive influence, his writing inspiring Tears For Fears’ name, song titles (Ideas As Opiates) and lyrics. Janov’s book The Primal Scream was also an influence on a certain Scottish band, of course. I think I was quite drawn to more subversive ‘pop’ hits as a kid: Ashes To Ashes by David Bowie, Norman Bates by Landscape, the entire ‘Soul Mining’ album by The The, even if I didn’t fully understand the meaning or context. That said, I also loved disco. Go figure.

  2. Thanks for the reminder, I bought the album back in the day, and whilst I enjoyed the singles the it never really stuck in the way that many albums of the era did- after almost 40 years its time for another listen

  3. Absolutely played this to death back in the day and still give an occasional listen now .
    I don’t mind the follow up – however I absolutely love ( and I’m imagining you have very little time for ) the totally self indulgent, over the top production , polished within an inch of its life Seeds of Love. Might as well have been a different band to the one who made the Prisoner , and about as far away from the shambolic C86 stuff I was listening to as a student as you can get , but I love it

  4. Really glad to have found your site. After seeing The Associates post yesterday and now Tears For Fears you’ve picked on two bands I adore and have written about. Your observation on thev darkness of The Hurting is well made its a theme throughout Orzabal’s career and was touched on I a Rockonteurs podcast earlier this year. They’ve become a great live act and one with many gems hidden in their back catalogue. I’ve been known to call Roland Orzabal a genius, I’d really recommend you give more Tears For Fears some time. Lovely piece again 🙏

  5. Brilliant post. Just brilliant.

    It’s a record I have never owned but have always loved. Maybe I’ll rectify that? My pal had the LP back in the day and I played it considerably more than he did. Reading the song titles today resulted in all these wonderful songs popping straight into my head. I will listen to the full LP today courtesy of the internet.

    The Hurting despite its pop sensibilities was a wee bit off kilter much like OMDs Architecture and Morality. For me this is the band’s greatest achievement although many would disagree. I liked some bits of the 2nd LP but it’d be fair to say I didn’t much care for it. My pal bought it, loved it and played it constantly.

    A record that means a great deal. Thanks for the nudge. I’ll now get to listening.

  6. B-sides for the first two albums are also pretty iinteersting and very left field. The “Saturnine, Martial + Lunatic” B-side collection is kind of interesting. But this is the only TFF album anyone needs. I like it fine. I also have “the other one” and actually saw them on the very boring US arena tour 90 miles away because that was as good as it got in Central Florida in 1985! But “Big Chair” is a very boring record and if I ever hear those two singles again it will be too soon. It’s in the Record Cell because of the first single, “Mother’s Talk” which really felt like a “Hurting” track. Strange factoid. “Big Chair” was the first CD released on the same day as the LP/Cassette back in the day. No waiting 2-6 months that time. Such was Polygram’s confidence in the, how you say, commercial viability of the project!

  7. I never heard any album following “Big Chair.” Couldn’t be bothered. But I did see the “solo-Roland” era “Elemental Tour” in a large club with friends in 1993. Was infinitely preferable to the arena show in ’85, for what its worth. He covered Radiohead’s “Creep” in the encore. Well, he would have.

  8. Brilliant post JC. As you can see by the weight of replies already quite a lot of TFF love in these parts. Khayem has already said most of what I would have said but always felt they were out for world domination and ‘Songs from a big chair’ is representative of this . However The Hurting is one of my top 20 favourite albums. There’s no doubt it sounded different at the time due to the fairlight/ Peter Gabriel influences but it really did reflect what it was like for them growing up in Snow Hill, one of the few dodgy areas in Bath. Saw them live three years ago and would thoroughly recommend.

  9. This is a great album – I still listen to it regularly – especially the title track – and a great post JC

    I saw them around this time and on the following big chair tour and they were great! I’ve never been a fan of ‘Everybody Wants To rule The World’ but Songs From The Big Chair does have it’s moments – Mothers Talk is great – and the piano line on Head Over Heels is magical – but yeah it sounds like a different band than the one that made The Hurting – I think releasing 5 of the 8 tracks as singles doesn’t help it either

    There was a BBC documentary about Songs From The Big Chair made a couple of years ago and it’s worth a watch – you might end up liking the album more!!

  10. I have both The Hurting and Big Chair, I rarely listen to the latter but more often to the debut. I do however – I think – hold Sea Song, b-side to one of the Big Chair singles to their best recording.

  11. Excellent post JC. Mad World was the first non-two tone single I bought as a twelve year old, half down to the fact that I was trying to impress my new and first girlfriend, who was a more pop loving soul than myself. This was followed by the album (and Wham! Fantastic – next for the blog? 😃). Very dark stuff that I also didn’t appreciate at the time, I see that Suffer the Children was actually their first single in 1981. I recently also came across some of their first band stuff as Graduate on YouTube.

  12. FruitierThanThou’s YouTube page posted TFF’s John Peel & Kid Jensen sessions from 1982 and they’re really good.

    @FORW, I didn’t mind SFTBC either and love Sowing The Seeds Of Love if it’s in an equally overblown 80s mix, but hard to do a TFF mixtape when there was a such a switch between the first and second albums, I think.

    I did try to mimic Curt Smith’s rat tails. As an 11-year old, it didn’t wash with my mum, who sat me in a chair and cut them off with a swish of her sewing scissors. Ah, the torment of youth!

  13. Died in the wool Tears For Fears fan here. The Hurting is a truly astonishing album, not least because of the depth of teen angst and confusion that it is built around. I have remained a fan through their ever changing sound, the albums Roland released after he and Curt split, and which include Gail Ann Dorsey on bass, and their comeback-together album, Everybody Love A Happy Ending in 2004. The have release a bit more music in the past 17 years, including covers of Arcade Fire, Animal Collective and Hot Chip.
    My favorite TFF song is one which the band all but disown, as it was a stop gap single that Polygram forced them to release, The Way You Are.

  14. I think this was the first album that my sister bought that I felt compelled to continually borrow. She’d have been 12 and me 17. In fairness to her, she did appreciate the less commercial tracks. After going to Uni and moving out, it must have been 20 years before I finally got a CD of it and listened to it through again. It is a truly exceptional album. I can cope with “Big Chair”, but something was definitely lost with the heavy-handed production.

  15. Always remember Everybody Rules The World being kept off the top spot in charts by USA for Africa. This felt like awful timing by the record company as they had never had a no 1 at this point.

  16. Absolutely love this album and almost nothing else subsequent to it. Your post encapsulates exactly why it’s such a classic with its combination of upbeat music and angst ridden lyrics. During my high school days, it was the only casette in my collection that friends from all the cliques never complained about hearing in the car (such bad top 40 at that time). The box set is the most played set in my collection as the alternate takes, remixes and such are not the usual one-time ‘play and file away’.

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