REVIEW BY: Kenny S. McGuane
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/08/2009
It’s a daunting task trying to document the enormity and scope of Tears For Fears’ musical vision, sophistication and brilliance on paper. Plenty are fine reducing the band to another flash in the ‘80s pop music pan, but reductions of this sort are not only inaccurate, but also irresponsible. Despite their not having -- for all intents and purposes -- been regularly active for some time now, Tears For Fears remain one of Britain’s most important and cherished bands. They’re a pillar of British music culture and history, a musical force impossible to overlook or ignore.
It’s been said before a number of times, but Tears For Fears’ 1983 debut album The Hurting would have been a daring and ambitious album for any artist to release, established or otherwise. Although the album is largely synth-driven, its combination of swirling acoustic and electric guitars, programmed drum loops (à la Talking Heads), sparse piano playing and controlled use of synthesizers makes for a ten-track album that sounds more like a band’s fourth or fifth, not their debut. Top all that with Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith’s distinctly resonate and powerful vocals and in many ways The Hurting sounds too big for 1983, certainly too big for a band just getting started. Of course in retrospect, knowing that their next step would be the colossal Songs From The Big Chair, the aesthetics and production of The Hurting make perfect sense.
But it’s not just the music that’s puzzlingly sophisticated and avant-garde on The Hurting; the lyrical subject matter itself is just as daring as any other feature. The record on the whole is a musical rendering of what was apparently Orzabal and Smith’s respective lonely and troubled childhoods. A dark and melancholy approach to pop music, yes, but there’s a psychoanalytic component here too. Nearly every song on The Hurting makes lyrical references to Arthur Janov’s The Primal Scream, a book in which both Orzabal and Smith have said they were heavily immersed at the time and one which emphasizes getting “the hurting” out in the open, so to speak.
The record produced three top-ten singles in the UK, “Mad World,” “Pale Shelter” and “Change,” and would peak at #1 on the UK album charts. While The Hurting made barely a splash in the United States, it gained momentum years later after the release of Songs From The Big Chair, an album that made Tears For Fears a household name. Typical of most TFF albums, there isn’t really a bad song on the record; some shine a bit brighter, though, and “Pale Shelter” is indeed the best track on The Hurting.
What The Hurting does almost more than anything else is legitimize the synthesizer as a tool for the production of rock music, and the writing is so very strong here and the musicianship so high that The Hurting demands respect for both the album and the band, placing Tears For Fears in the same company as Talking Heads, Roxy Music and Talk Talk, not WHAM! or the Culture Club.