Tears for Fears on “The Tipping Point,” Their First Album in Over 17 Years | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, February 28th, 2024  

Tears for Fears on “The Tipping Point,” Their First Album in Over 17 Years

Mourning Earnestly, Aging Gracefully

Feb 22, 2022 Photography by Frank Ockenfels Issue #69 - 20th Anniversary Issue
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Don’t call them a pop band. Yes, Tears for Fears released some of the biggest chart-toppers of the ’80s, from “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” to “Shout.” But main songwriter and vocalist Roland Orzabal and bassist and co-songwriter Curt Smith say they are operating in a far different genre now with their latest album, The Tipping Point, their first in 17 years.

“It’s like getting blood out of a stone, making a Tears for Fears record,” Orzabal says via Zoom. But when he looks at contemporaries that churn out album after album to indifferent receptions, he asks himself: “If you were an act that was image-based in the ’80s, did videos on yachts, and you make another record when you’re 60—what are you trying to say? Because there are kids who do it far, far better. Pop belongs to youth.”

During an early round of “speed dating” with various collaborators for The Tipping Point, Orzabal and Smith hit snag after snag. Smith played some of those tracks for his daughter, who is also a musician. He recalls her saying: “‘So many people now do that better. Why are you doing that?’ And she was right. I didn’t like it, and began to understand why: it’s me trying to be something else. Which is never good.”

When Orzabal and Smith began communicating more deeply, and leaning on the work of co-producer and longtime touring member Charlton Pettus, the new songs developed underlying themes and ebbs and flows that suited a Tears for Fears album, rather than the scattered bits and pieces they’d be tinkering with.

“We are at our best when Curt and I are driving the car together,” says Orzabal of their writing approach. Sonically, meanwhile, they realized their goal of competing with the biggest legacy rock acts, rather than chasing trends. Audience members at a listening event in a London theater put it best, in Smith’s view, when they told him it sounded like a “classic Tears for Fears album.”

True to their weighty themed, psychology inspired early hits, The Tipping Point features songs such as the title track. Orzabal began writing it when his late wife and childhood sweetheart Caroline “was becoming more and more ill. To the point of a ghost of her former self, to quote the cliché that I sang about in the song. It got to a point where you begin questioning when you should let this person go.”

Married at 21 after meeting at 14, he and Caroline would often meet up with Smith at Snow Hill Flats in their native Bath, England and drink cider. Their drink of choice became wine as adults, but Caroline’s daily habit led to liver disease, something Orzabal tries to raise more awareness about now. For Smith, it was “difficult watching someone you’re close to go through that,” and led to a break in recording “because us in the studio butting heads wasn’t doing either of us any good.”

Working on the song’s lyrics proved to be a “combination of detachment and feeling. The dichotomy in the lyrics and chorus captures the complexity that goes on in those moments,” says Orzabal. He also poured his grief into “Please Be Happy,” an even more bittersweet song because it’s about seeing Caroline “in the depths of depression. And Curt sings it beautifully.”

Another album highlight: “Rivers of Mercy,” which Orzabal says is about “being baptized, surrendering, healing, and letting go,” all juxtaposed with turning on the news to see the racially charged upheaval engulfing America in the summer of 2020. He adds: “It’s about the contrast between your instinctive desire for peace and the rage that’s going on in world.”

Orzabal is eager to perform their new songs, many of which are “crazy up-tempo.” Chalk that sound up, in part, to the time Tears for Fears spent at festivals in recent years, sharing bills with rollicking hip-hop and pop acts. Fans will also be sure to enjoy how the band’s sets start these days: with a cover version of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by popstar Lorde playing over the speakers, until Orzabal, Smith, and co. take to the stage and perform the original. They appreciate new takes on their biggest hits, as long as those interpretations aren’t too duly faithful and instead render the song anew, says Smith. The most famous cover of a Tears for Fears’ song is arguably Michael Andrews and Gary Jules’ comparatively downcast take on “Mad World” for the cult classic Donnie Darko. Orzabal recalls signing off on the cover for the movie as a favor to a friend, without thinking much of it. Long after the cover had become a hit, Orzabal’s son sang along to it in their kitchen one morning, and when he reached the lyrics about “children waiting…happy birthday” Orzabal’s “jaw dropped.” That’s because: “I’m a parent, I wrote that as an adolescent and here’s my son, singing it to me.”

Orzabel adds that Tears for Fears have not just been lucky to “generate hits, but megahits.” “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” for instance, has reached one billion views on YouTube. “We never could’ve imagined that when we were kids,” Orzabal says, which makes Smith agree and add: “We never anticipated the longevity of the music.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 69 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, our 20th Anniversary Issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]


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