Sunday, October 4, 2009

Tears For Fears Rule The World

With ‘Mothers Talk’ having wet the appetite, Tears For Fears decided to up the ante and ‘Shout’ for their next single. The song had been penned by Roland Orzabal and keyboardist Ian Stanley, with Orzabal initially penning the anthemic, mantra-like chorus using a small synthesizer and drum machine (Stanley helped construct the verse structure). He felt the song was more suited to being an album track, but producer Chris Hughes heard a hit single. What began as a relatively simple song structure evolved into complex instrumentation and vocal arrangements, and took the best part of four months to complete (out of the eight months of total recording time afforded the new album). The finished product was worth agonizing over, and when released in the U.K. during November of ‘84, ‘Shout’ made itself heard almost immediately on the charts. The song was more than just a catchy, infectious chorus chant. It announced the arrival of a more mature Tears For Fears soundscape, complex in its arrangements, rich in its textures, and polished in its performance. But for all its technical refinement, ‘Shout’ packed an emotionally resonant punch, and effectively conveyed the dramatic clout that Tears For Fears had become known for - but on a wider, broader, deeper scale, enveloping listeners with its relentless, impassioned march. The track was dripping with searing power chords, explosive drum fills, and Roland Orzabal served up an epic guitar solo (which required nothing less than standing on a cliff top to deliver). Lyrically, some mistook ‘Shout’s theme as continuing the primal scream doctrine of connecting with your pain, then letting it out verbally, but as Orzabal told Billboard Magazine, the song was more concerned with the individual making their opinions known, more specifically about bigger picture social and political issues (basically encouraging people to protest if they felt the need). Orzabal handled the lead vocals (with Curt Smith joining him on chorus), and it was becoming the norm for the pair to trade lead vocal duties. The promo video for ‘Shout’ was directed by Nigel Dick (fresh from directing the video for Band Aid). It was a relatively straight forward affair, shot on two locales - an area called Durdle Door near Dorset, on the south-west coast of England, and an in-studio session featuring the full band, with a cast of family and friends in support to belt out the chorus. ‘Shout’ made its voice heard loud and clear at #4 on the British charts early in ‘85, peaked at #1 in Australia (during March), and eventually bellowed its way into the top ten in more than 25 countries worldwide. However, Tears For Fears would have to wait another six months before ‘Shout’ would make itself heard Stateside (well it had all that water to cross - actually given the speed of sound it should have only taken a few hours).

Coinciding with the release of their sophomore album, ‘Songs From The Big Chair’, Tears For Fears unleashed the third single to feature on the album, the majestic pop-rock gem ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’. In the closing chapters of recording the album, Tears For Fears realised they needed one more song to round out the track listing. They had three candidates, one of which was a half-finished song which Roland Orzabal had been tinkering with. At the time Orzabal was a bit dismissive of the song, thinking it too lightweight a pop piece for the Tears For Fears songbook, but producer Chris Hughes heard potential in the song, and encouraged Orzabal to flesh out the lyrics, and polish the guitar line. Ian Stanley chipped in, and three days later Tears For Fears had recorded their first U.S. #1 - ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’. Both band and record label chose the track as the first single release for the American market, and their decision was proven to be justified, as ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ invaded the U.S. Hot 100 during March of ‘85, and cruised to a two week stint ruling the charts during June. The song’s overtly commercial nature drove it to the top of radio playlists the world over, and to #2 in both Britain and Australia. The opening guitar chord serves as a fresh awakening from an especially heavy slumber - it just energises the senses instantly, and screams freedom. If ‘Mad World’ had an oppressive, gloomy, suffocating atmosphere, ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ was its breezy, dreamy, sunny-side up antithesis. Curt Smith stepped up to the lead vocals microphone for this one, whilst Orzabal, Stanley and Elias served up lush layers of instrumental support. Despite a serious lyrical message (of world domination and the military machine), musically the song breaks free of any pretentiousness, relying solely on its engaging pop-rock charms. The promo video reflected the songs feel of warmth and breeziness, with much open road adventure for Curt Smith in a nifty little green Austin-Healey 3000 sports car, winding his way around Southern Californian highways and byways. ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ not only ruled the charts, but earned Tears For Fears a Brit Award for ‘Best Single’.

The runaway success of ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ Stateside, opened the gateway for Tears For Fears to take a deep breath and unleash ‘Shout’ on the U.S. market. With their profile at an all time high, ‘Shout’ was a sure fire commercial hit, and by August of ‘85 Tears For Fears had ascended to the summit of the U.S. Hot 100 for the second time within two months (this time for a three week stint). By this time, the source album, ‘Songs From The Big Chair’, was riding high on charts across the world (UK#2/OZ#5), including a five week sabbatical at the top of the U.S. charts. Produced by Chris Hughes, the album confirmed the arrival of Tears For Fears as a more mature, accomplished band. Whilst the band took a step back from some of the more lyrically confronting themes associated with primal therapy, the album’s title did take some inspiration from related material. It referenced an NBC-TV miniseries called ‘Sybil’, about a girl with multiple personalities. The girls analyst had a very large chair, which she sat in during regression therapy - a place of safety and comfort. Tears For Fears may have explored and confronted their own demons on ‘The Hurting’, but ‘Songs From The Big Chair’ banished said demons to the netherworld, and served as a thematic reawakening of the psyche to its own potential for freedom and emotional clarity. As Stanton Swihart wrote in his All Music Guide review of the album - it “marks the progression towards emotional healing” - a kind of emotional and musical catharsis. Curt Smith noticeably assumed a lesser role in the writing stakes, with Ian Stanley partnering up with Orzabal on most of the album’s ten tracks. The arrangements were technically savvy, and production values flawless, with the result being a more refined, textured feel. The previous ruling order of structured synth-pop gave way largely to a more organic (though no less precise) layering of influences, from soul, R&B, guitar pop - all bursting at the seams with catchy hooks and melodic titbits. Orzabal and Smith were both quoted at the time as saying they approached some of the songs in a deliberately commercial way, working meticulously to craft them to a point of absolute pop accessibility. All the more reason to marvel at the magnificence of the result, which in no way comes across as a sell out to commercial aspirations.

The ensuing single encapsulated the notion of marrying perfectly crafted song structure with commercial appeal. The shimmering pop jewel ‘Head Over Heels’ knocked me off my feet from the very first time I heard it. The crisp piano intro melts into intricately woven guitar, drawing you into a world of pristine pop patina, populated with finely crafted layers of glistening guitars (with splashes of jangle-pop), velvety vocal harmonies, sparkling synths, and meticulously melded rhythm tracks, all cascading down in waves. The song’s ornate and lavish production values didn’t weigh down on its innately ebullient pop splendour. ‘Head Over Heels’ was in no need of a four leaf clover to aid it on its trajectory to #3 on the U.S. charts (UK#12/OZ#21). The song’s history pre-dated work on ‘Songs From The Big Chair’, as it was originally part of a segue with the song ‘Broken’, a B-side to ‘Pale Shelter’. The reworked and re-recorded single was backed by one of the most eye catching promo videos of the era - Tears For Fears had quickly become the darlings of the MTV set. The song’s essentially romantic theme was played out with Roland Orzabal in the role of a love lorn lad lusting after a librarian. Curt Smith played a cleaner, whilst Ian Stanley and Manny Elias finally received more prominent roles in the cast. It’s a feel good, and slightly quirky affair, in keeping with the feel of the song itself, and reflective of Tears For Fears metamorphosis from po-faced synth-pop practitioners to more accessible music artists. There was even a hint of the absurd about the promo video, which reiterated the band’s willingness to cast off the self-conscious shackles of the past. Further enhancing their newly declared openness, Tears For Fears released the video ‘Scenes From The Big Chair’, a 75 minute collection of interviews, music videos, live performances, and behind the scenes footage of the band.

The album ‘Songs From The Big Chair’ yielded one more single, with the languid, soulful ‘I Believe’ (UK#23), a more stripped down affair with promo video to suit. On the back of such monumental commercial and critical acclaim, ‘Songs From The Big Chair’ went on to sell in excess of eight million copies (won multiple platinum accreditations), and established itself as one of the major mileage markers on the 80s pop-rock highway. At the height of hysteria surrounding the album, Tears For Fears were scheduled to perform at the Philadelphia leg of the Live Aid concerts, but a last minute withdrawal caused some consternation from organisers. Officially the reason given related to some of the band’s backing musicians having quit due to an expiration of their contract. Those backing musos in question were guitarist Andrew Saunders, and saxophonist Will Gregory (keyboardist Nicky Holland also toured with them during this period). I recall the band copping some flack from the media at the time, but in an effort to save face, Tears For Fears offered up proceeds from selected venues on their mammoth world tour. During that same year long tour, Orzabal and Smith came across the vocal talents of Oleta Adams, who was performing in a Kansas City hotel bar at the time. They extended an invitation for Adams to contribute to their next album, an invitation which in time would reap rewards for both the band and Adams. At the conclusion of the ‘Big Chair’ world tour, drummer Manny Elias left the group (he went on to work with Peter Gabriel, Julian Lennon), and for a period Tears For Fears was put on hiatus.

During 1986, Roland Orzabal and Ian Stanley collaborated on a side project dubbed Mancrab. The duo released just the one single, ‘Fish For Life’, which also featured on the soundtrack to the motion picture ‘The Karate Kid, Part II’. Perhaps Bob Geldof once again reminded the band of their Live Aid no show, as in May of ‘86, Tears For Fears released a slightly modified version of their #1 ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’, retagged as ‘Everybody Wants To Run The World’. The single was released to support Geldof’s new initiative Sport Aid’s Race Against Time, a worldwide running event held to raise money for Ethiopian famine relief, and proved the song had considerable endurance, peaking at #5 on the British charts.

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