Some forty years into one of music’s most impactful partnerships, Tears For Fears have arrived together at The Tipping Point – the group’s ambitious, accomplished and surprising first new studio album in nearly two decades.
Yes, somehow it has been 17 years since the beloved duo released Everybody Loves A Happy Ending in 2004. Yet Tears For Fears has hardly been absent from the road, from our airwaves or from our hearts and minds here in the 21st Century. To the surprise of many – very much including themselves – they have actually become late-blooming road warriors playing arenas, stadiums and festivals in winning form with a new and improved band. Their recordings have been sampled by everyone from The Weeknd to David Guetta to Kanye West and covered by artists ranging from Lorde to Adam Lambert to Disturbed. The timeless, widescreen songs of Tears For Fears have also appeared in many films including Donnie Darko and Straight Outta Compton to name just a few, and the group now find themselves frequently name-checked by numerous younger bands as a classic influence.
And now, at very long last, Tears For Fears find themselves back in peak form at The Tipping Point, an inspired song cycle that speaks powerfully and artfully to our present tense here in 2021. This is an album that vividly recalls the depth and emotional force of the group’s earliest triumphs. Imagine a far more outward-looking take on TFF’s famously introspective 1983 debut album The Hurting set in an even more mad world, or 1985’s Songs From The Big Chair bravely confronting even bigger issues in our increasingly unruly world. Or even 1989’s The Seeds Of Love that sows a mix of love and other emotions.
So how exactly did Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith – the two childhood friends from Bath, England, at the heart of this global success story -- take so long to make this musical journey from their Happy Ending to The Tipping Point? To hear them both tell it now, The Tipping Point took a rather long, bumpy and sometimes painful path to get to a much better and far more intriguing place.
“Before everything went so right with this album, everything first had to go wrong,” explains Roland Orzabal with a wry smile. “It took years, but something happens when we put our heads together. We’ve got this balance -- this push-me-pull-you, brake-accelerator-accelerator-brake thing – and it works really well.”
“I concur with my esteemed colleague,” adds Curt Smith. “If that balance doesn’t work on a Tears For Fears album, the whole thing just doesn’t work. To put it in simple terms, a Tears For Fears record -- and what people perceive to be the sound of Tears For Fears – is the stuff we can both agree on.”
“Which is why we don’t make records very often!” Orzabal adds with a laugh.
Yet before all the good laughs and this great new album, there was no shortage of confusion, doubt and even an ultimately misguided attempt at playing the game.
As Orzabal explains it, Tears For Fears’ previous management seemed “dedicated to the idea of not making a new album.”
“And if it had to be done,” Smith adds, “it had to be written almost by committee with some of today’s hit songwriters.”
And though Tears For Fears has sold more than 30 million albums around the world, the pair decided to give this approach a shot. But before long, this reluctant attempt at compromise failed.
As Orzabal explains, “Eventually, that pressure and tension divided us -- not just from our management, but from one another too.” A professional tipping point had been reached. Yet when they eventually met up with new management, Orzabal and Smith played them, what Orzabal describes as “the five tracks we could both agree on, and they raved over them. So suddenly, for the first time in a long time we felt like we had someone in our corner who understood what we were trying to do. We felt like we had somebody on our side. To be in that position was a big breath of fresh air for us after dealing with being pushed in various directions not only by our past management, but also a record company we were signed to. It was the first time in a long time that we decided - we have to do this.”
Having experienced the death of his first wife Caroline in 2017, and his own serious health scare in 2018, not to mention a global pandemic, Orzabal explains that he has gained far greater perspective about Smith’s significant place in his life. “I can be quite honest about this because my late wife and Curt and I used to hang out when we were 14, 13, in Snow Hill flats in Bath,” Orzabal says. “Obviously, the older you get the more people you lose. And then you kind of think, `Hang on, I’ve known him all my life, almost.’ So when I had my medical emergencies in 2018, the first person I thought about ringing was Curt. I was thinking, `Am I going to get through this?’ Get Curt on the phone! `You can have my guitars. You can have my clothes!’”
“You can keep your clothes,” Smith responds with a warm smile.
“I can say this,” Orzabal responds. “Curt may have some difficulty saying this.”
“No, I have no difficulty saying it at all,” Smith adds. “The thing is when you’ve known each other as long as we have, and have worked together as long as we have, there’s a bond there that becomes familial. So it’s different from a friendship. And it’s different from a marriage. It’s literally like that’s your brother. They may annoy the crap out of you every once in a while. But they’re still family. It’s the kind of bond that you can’t really break. It can fall apart at times. You separate for periods -- which I also think is healthy, really. I’ve walked away. But in the end, we always seem to find each other again.”
The Tipping Point is the bold, beautiful and powerful sound of Tears For Fears finding themselves together all over again.