Emma Pollock on Tears For Fears' The Hurting | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Emma Pollock on Tears For Fears’ The Hurting

Nov 04, 2010 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

(Under the Radar’s Summer 2010 Issue is a special issue named the Wasted on the Youth Issue that features musicians and actors talking about their childhood memories and things they loved when they were kids. We’re also posting web-exclusive essays that were not printed in the issue, including this one by Emma Pollock, former member of Scotland’s The Delgados, but now a solo artist.)

When I was in my early teens, just starting high school, I was a huge fan of music, but listening mainly to chart musicNik Kershaw, Duran Duran etc. I would sit religiously at the side of the radio every Sunday afternoon engrossed in the Top 40 chart rundown, singing along to the hits with the aid of inaccurate lyrics published by one of the popular teen magazines.

As the town I lived in, in southwest ScotlandCastle Douglashad only the chain store Woolworths selling music, I was pretty much limited to chart singles and albums when it came to spending what little pocket money I had. I enjoyed whatever music I bought at the time, but whether it was to stand the test of time was another thing entirely.

One day I chanced upon an album, The Hurting, by Tears For Fears. A very cool friend of mine had recommended this album, and so I dutifully bought it and walked home in curious anticipation.

The album was to become a mainstay in my cassette player for the following months. Whilst my past choice in music had been mostly a pretty easy listenthe usual sunny pop-music fare and often quite brilliant for itI had never come across music with an undercurrent such as that I heard on the debut from Tears For Fears.

With the stark and slightly eerie intro of the drums of first track “The Hurting” quickly leading into a wonderful combination of leading guitar and synth lines, I was utterly transfixed by the atmosphere this music could conjure. I would ask my parents to come in to the kitchen of an evening and share in the marvel of this very introduction. I’m not sure they quite appreciated it in the way I did, being traditional jazz fans, but I really wasn’t looking for their approval. I was already so sure that this music was the best out there, the most compelling and powerful that I just wanted to give them the opportunity to hear it too.

I very quickly went on to buy the green 7” vinyl single release of “Pale Shelter” which I covet to this day. Another fantastic example of traditional instruments (acoustic guitar and vocals) and synths, sequencers, and drum machines coming together to make a sharp, slick, brooding sound that was still unmistakably human when combined with the melody, voices and lyrics of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith.

I have a reissue of the album now on CD and with it comes a lot of information written by the editor of the then current popular teen mag Smash Hits. He writes a lot about his first impressions of the band, and his growing awareness of the darkness behind the lyrics. Both Orzabal and Smith grew up in broken families on a council estate in Bath. They were both in their early 20s when writing the album and were trying to deal with their still fresh childhood memories by reading the works of the psychotherapist Arthur Janov, who wrote the book “The Primal Scream.” Apparently they were trying to raise enough money with the record to visit New York or LA to get the therapy they’d only been able to read about in his books.

All of this detail completely escaped me of course when I was listening to it the first time round. What didn’t escape me, however, was the darkness of the music, the sense of tension and of a world just a little askew. The pop sensibility was never lost, though, which just made the whole presentation even more compelling. Here were these incredibly catchy tunes, which presented the darkest lyrics if you cared to dig a little deeper. I wasn’t one for analysing lyrics; I never have been, as I’m always way more interested in the music itself. However, learning about the background story to the album 27 years later doesn’t present as much of a surprise as I might have thought. That’s the thing about music itself that always astounds me; it doesn’t necessarily always need the lyric to convey something incredibly powerful with a surprising degree of accuracy.

Recently I bought a compilation of all the singles for the car, and my son who is 8 years old absolutely loved it and requested it be played constantly for weeks. Funnily enough, he warmed more to those tracks from “The Hurting” than the later material. I’m still trying to work out if that is a comment on my parenting skills.

(Emma Pollock was the vocalist/guitarist for Scotland’s The Delgados, who released five albums and were together from 1994 to 2005. Since the band’s breakup, Pollock has released two solo albums, the most recent being The Law of Large Numbers, released in March by Chemikal Underground.)


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