Monday, 5 July 2010

19 The Hurting - Tears For Fears

Purchased : 16 March 1983

Tracks : The Hurting / Mad World / Pale Shelter / Ideas As Opiates / Memories Fade / Suffer The Children / Watch Me Bleed / Change / The Prisoner /Start Of The Breakdown

This was bought from WH Smith's in Halifax on the way back from an entrance interview for Huddersfield Polytechnic on the same day that it was announced as the number one LP in Peter Powell's album chart rundown in the evening. It was a disappointing day; the appeal of these excursions was beginning to wear thin and the Poly itself seemed an ugly, joyless place. If anything it gave me a bit of a fillip to revise well and have a full choice of institutions come August.

By contrast this purchase was a no-brainer. With all four singles on it and some of the other tracks heard on R1 sessions I knew it wasn't going to disappoint.

It is to some extent a concept album, every song tied to the duo's interest in the primal therapy techniques of Arthur Janov as first introduced to pop culture by John Lennon. I was intrigued by this, hoping I might learn something about the nature of my own angst if I delved deeper so I also ordered Janov's book "Prisoners Of Pain " around about this time.

With a cover featuring a distressed child that would be criticised if released today each melancholic song within refers back in some way to childhood trauma. It doesn't sound like a recipe for commercial success in any age but these two refugees from failed mod band Graduate cracked it big time.

The title track kicks things off and sets out their stall both musically and lyrically. There's a tangible move away from pure synth-pop in 1983 - both the first two singles on here were re-recorded to this end- and Manny Elias's drums and Roland Orzabal's own guitar playing are prominent on this and a number of other tracks. The lyrics introduce the central concept of Janov's theory - we are all haunted by the ghosts of childhood trauma and exist in a state of unrelieved pain "The Hurting" which needs to be tackled. The duo sing this one together sounding rather like Tilbrook and Difford on "Take Me I'm Yours"
posing a number of questions- "Could you understand a child when he cries in pain ? " before the middle eight with its surprise switch to acoustic guitar and synthetic flute delivers Janov's answers in simplified form - "learn to cry like a baby".

The familiar syn-drum intro tells us that their breakthrough hit "Mad World" is next , here taken at a slightly faster pace than the single. This is a hurt person looking out at the world and seeing others in the same boat - echoes of "Message In A Bottle" here. You have to understand Janov a little to realise that the devastating "Dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had" is actually the most optimistic part of the song, Orzabal celebrating the cathartic value of nightmares rather than entertaining suicidal thoughts. The second verse recalls his own unhappy childhood with the sardonic synthetic brass fills that punctuate each line one of many unexpected musical touches that give this album extra power.

Next we have the re-recorded less-synthy version of "Pale Shelter", Orzabal giving the child at the centre of the song an adult vocabulary with which to criticise its parents. It rises out of a synth swirl but then brings an acoustic guitar to the fore. Curt Smith sings the plaintive verses sweetly then toughens up for the accusatory chorus and later in the song his bass becomes more belligerent too. In the instrumental coda there's a brief bit of syn-drum clatter that Don Henley might have noted for "The Boys Of Summer".

My least favourite track "Ideas As Opiates" follows again re-recorded from its initial appearance on the B-side of "Mad World". It's the first time we hear Orzabal's lugubrious voice on its own stretching itself over doomy piano chords in a manner that betrays his love of Robert Wyatt . It's a mantra rather than a song , Orzabal gloomily noting our avoidance of difficult subjects but it's a dreary listen prefiguring the dreary dirges that cropped up with increasing frequency as his career progressed. The bracing sax solo that comes in towards the end is actually a relief.

While Orzabal retains the mike for the final track on Side One , it's a much better song the Annie Nightingale Request Show favourite "Memory Fades". Orzabal is laying Janov's central truth on the line, time doesn't heal old wounds, you continue burning under the surface and the mournful sax that breaks out in the middle of the song here is like an explosion of pus and blood that can't be contained any longer. This song is addressed to an ex-lover but instead of being recriminatory there's an understanding that both parties were carrying too much baggage for things to work out.

Side Two starts with the re-vamped "Suffer The Children" with big rock drums replacing the drum machine and the "tell him that you love him " lines excised completely (possibly because of the unwelcome comparisons with Supertramp's "Dreamer"). In this new form it's the closest they get to the rock sound of Graduate with the chorus bursting out with the joy of Janov's solutions to crashing drums and guitar chords. The middle eight has two surprises , a modest guitar solo then Caroline Orzabal's little girl lost "la la la" refrain which continues for the rest of the song.

"Watch Me Bleed" is another uncompromisingly morose song with Orzabal unable to take pleasure in "normal" activity - "I am full but feeling empty". Here though the music is lively with an energetic acoustic guitar strum and Smith aping Peter Hook's melodic bass runs which makes the gloomy message hard to ignore.

"Change" sees another well-timed switch of singer with Smith's lighter tones taking on this rather lighter song about a failed friendship. The maddeningly insistent xylophone riff made this a very distinctive follow-up to "Mad World" which did almost as well in the charts despite a rather weak chorus.

Smith also takes on "The Prisoner" adopting a hoarse whisper for the track which takes a huge lump out of Peter Gabriel's "Intruder" . The gothic mellotrons which stand in for a chorus aim to evoke the mental turmoil of the protagonist but its a bit too overwrought and ends up sounding obvious and clumsy.

But as with the end of Side One they follow a weak track with a winner. "Start Of The Breakdown" is perhaps the most affecting song of all , with no overt Janovian references, just a sad recognition that a relationship might be starting to fail. It starts with a skittering of synth notes suggestive of wintry drizzle before Orzabal and his dolorous piano come in. At this , the synths get even more agitated hinting at the inner turmoil behind the "Half alive" stoicism. Manny Elias's drums don't kick in until after the verses have finished heralding a lengthy coda where Smith gets to play Mick Karn on fretless bass before it fades out without resolution.

Though commercially outstripped by its successor this is TFF at their best, an outstanding debut that still doesn't get the recognition it deserves.

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