How do you approach a review for such a legendary band as Tears for Fears? I’ve noticed, even among the fans in the Facebook group, that everyone has their own perspective on how to rate something like this, or whether “rating” it should even be a thing. Tears for Fears is back after 18 years of studio silence. The album is called The Tipping Point and it released on February 25th.
Tears for Fears is Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith. That has changed here and there through the years, but for this release, it is true. Roland handles vocals, guitars, keyboards, and programming; and Curt handles vocals, bass, and keyboards. Interestingly, they mixed a few of the tracks themselves, too. Additionally, there are about a dozen musicians who helped bring this to life with drums, choir vocals, etc. I would point out Doug Petty specifically for his performances on accordion, Hammond organ, and piano.
Okay, so what is my perspective on how to approach a new album by a legendary band? Tears for Fears has been around since 1981, and I feel like they were pretty innovative back in the day as part of the New Wave sound that felt so dynamic and inventive. Considering this, I’ve come to realize that there are two types of Tears for Fears fans (and this often applies to other older bands, too). First, you have the fans who loved The Hurting and Songs from the Big Chair in the 80s. Maybe they even still love those albums and listen regularly. Then you have the fans who stuck with the band through all of their releases through the 90s and beyond. These are the hardcore fans who weren’t deterred by the in-fighting between Roland and Curt, or Curt’s absence for most of the 90s. I don’t blame the first type of fan for abandoning ship, but I also admire the second type for staying put.
Well, maybe there is another type, which is what I am. I’m not ashamed to say that I’m only 36, so the band’s two biggest albums were released before I was even born. I discovered them through the Donnie Darko soundtrack. Of course, I’m a big fan of their first two albums, so maybe I fall in with the first type of fan. I haven’t listened that much to anything outside their first three records.
But we are here to talk about The Tipping Point. It feels like many fans—the ones who basically like their first two albums only—are expecting something revolutionary and innovative again. Here’s the thing: Tears for Fears is extremely influential across a wide array of genres. Can we really expect something extremely new and groundbreaking from them all these years later? Many bands have already developed this sound in dozens of new directions. Some fans, like myself, have chosen to take this album at face value, not expecting something radical, but something simply good, and maybe mature.
I think that describes The Tipping Point well. It is a good album, and it is mature and restrained. It doesn’t try anything ridiculous, but focuses on well-written songs, memorable melodies, catchy choruses, and the odd bit of flash here and there. It certainly won’t be remembered as their best, and it won’t be considered totally original, but it definitely deserves to be seen as a rock solid, extremely enjoyable experience, one that I find myself returning to often.
For this record, I hear the signature Tears for Fears sound with the pulsating bass lines, catchy choruses, and fantastic grooves. I also hear quite a bit of influence from The Beatles, especially in the last half. I mean, the band has always had great harmonies, but there is something distinct in the way they achieve harmony on this record that reminds me of the 60s. I mean, they even name The Beatles (and The Rolling Stones) in the lyrics on one track.
I’ll go out on a limb here: the second half is the best part of the album. I do really like the first four songs, especially the groovy title track and “Long, Long, Long Time” with its expressive verses and ethereal chorus featuring Carina Round on vocals. For my money, though, the album really gets going after that.
This is because “My Demons” arrives. I absolutely love this song. This rhythmic and synth-y track has so much energy and spunk, I just can’t help but sing along with it. The next track is even better; called “Rivers of Mercy”, it has a luscious central melody and chorus that, while it does repeat quite a bit, always hits just right. There is something about this song that puts a tear in my eye and some hope in my chest. “Please Be Happy” follows and is an orchestral and piano-led ballad that feels heartfelt and gorgeous.
The last three songs are amazing, too. “Master Plan” feels like a Beatles song to me with its marching rhythm and confident vocals. I like “End of Night” even better, though, for its harmonious chorus and simply yet effective chord progression. It has plenty of swagger, shall I say, but also somehow quiet and dark strength. The closer, “Stay”, is an acoustic, almost ambient ballad that, while ending the album on a reserved note, was definitely the best choice to finish.
There you have it. Tears for Fears is back, and they have an album on their hands that is both gentle and melodic, yet also plucky and lively. There is true spirit here, and while that might not be found in cool instrumentals or crazy time signatures any more, it is certainly found in the veteran songwriting and ear for good melodies. This is an album that you will want to hear many times, almost inexplicably, but I recommend that you just go with the flow on that.
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