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:-
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.
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.
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:-
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.
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.