Stop The Presses!

Tears For Fears Look Back at ‘The Hurting,’ Look Toward the Future With Covers

Stop The Presses!

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Photo: Chris McKay

One-time synth-pop act Tears For Fears isn't just looking back with the recent release of a deluxe reissue of their 1983 debut, The Hurting, the British duo is looking to the future by covering songs by contemporary artists as it readies its next album.

Composed of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, Tears For Fears is about to release their second cover in recent months, following the group's take of Arcade Fire's "Ready to Start," which turned up in August.

Since the turn of the century, Tears For Fears has enjoyed a resurgence of sorts thanks to other artists covering their songs, beginning with Michael Andrews and Gary Jules' take of The Hurting hit "Mad World" for the Donnie Darko soundtrack in 2001. "I first heard it on [Los Angeles public radio station] KCRW while I was driving," Smith says. "I thought it was Michael Stipe." The sparse, haunting version went on to top the charts in the U.K. in 2003. In 2010, Jules performed his cover with Smith on Smith's web show "Stripped Down."

The sessions for Tears For Fears next album, and first since 2004's Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, coincide with the deluxe reissue of the duo's 1983 debut, The Hurting. Released Oct. 22, the set is available as a three-CD/DVD boxed set, a two-CD version and a digital package, featuring remixes and rare original single versions of "Suffer The Children" and "Pale Shelter," and more.

Although Smith says he isn't a "hoarder" or collector of such packages himself, he and Orzabal felt the need to get involved in the reissue. "We wanted to get involved in this one because we wanted to make it a package that we didn't think that people who like us are going to get ripped off by," he says. "The record companies don't need our permission. They've released more greatest hits versions than actual albums that we've made."

Tears For Fears formed out of the ashes of the mod band Graduate in Bath, England. Orzabal and Smith were the chief songwriters in the quintet but were tired of being outvoted by the other three members of the band. "We wanted to concentrate on recording and they wanted to go on tour," Smith recalls. "So in the end, we left."

With technology evolving, and with new and improved synthesizers and drum machines, Orzabal and Smith soon realized that they "didn't really need a band anymore," Smith says. "Technology gave us the freedom to work as two people." While electronics figure heavily into the sound of The Hurting, much of album was actually written on acoustic guitar, which can be heard on "Pale Shelter."

Lyrically, Tears For Fears and The Hurting were heavily influenced by American psychologist Arthur Janov and his 1970 book The Primal Scream. (The good doctor once counted John Lennon and Yoko Ono among his patients; and later, Bobbie Gillespie named his post-Jesus and Mary Chain band after the book.) "I think Roland read Primal Scream first and then gave it to me," Smith says. "This was, I think, even prior to The Graduate days. We both got heavily into and it offered a lot of questions about how screwed up our home life was. He was a big influence for us to start with; that's where the name Tears For Fears came from and The Hurting and most of the songs we had."

Although Smith takes issue with some of Janov's theories now, The Hurting has held up surprisingly well and seems to find new followers in every generation. "It certainly resonates with a certain age group, I think, because of the subject matter of the album," Smith says. "It's passed down from generation to generation. I think people who were fans of the album now are people who are the age we are when we made it, people who were 18 to 20 back then or people who are 18 to 20 now."

"It's a pretty stark record that talks a lot about teenage angst and parents and that kind of stuff and I think kids in their late teens and college years relate to that," he continues. "They're trying to work they way around the world and that's why they can relate to it."

While the songs that influenced by Janov's writings still hold up, Smith now sees flaws in some of the doctor's theories. "The backbone of his theory is that children come into the world as a blank slate and whatever they become is a result of their parents," Smith says. "But as a parent of two children, I can see they both definitely didn't come in as a blank slate. They're completely different. One is exactly like me and one is exactly like my wife. It's weird and none of it is really learned. That's the way they are."

And Smith and Orzabal were less than impressed when they met with their inspiration. "We met him twice. He came to our show at the Hammersmith Odeon and London and he came backstage. And that was relatively pleasant, having God come watch you," he recalls. "He then invited us out to lunch and he pitched us the idea of 'Primal Theory,' the musical. At that point I lost it. It became too Hollywood for me. 'You want us to write a musical about your book?'"

When we suggest to Smith that maybe Janov was ahead of his time, since now much of Broadway is devoted to jukebox musicals, Smith says, "Very true, but can you imagine one about psychotherapy?" We suggest it would have to be a comedy or parody. Smith replies, "Comedy was not what he had in mind."

In the U.K. The Hurting was a huge hit. "Mad World," "Pale Shelter," and "Change" all reached the top 5 of the U.K. singles chart, while the album went to No. 1. For those who grew up in the '80s listening to KROQ in Los Angeles or WLIR New York, it may have seemed that they had similar success in the U.S., but in reality, they hardly made a blip on the U.S. charts at the time. "Change" was the only U.S. charting single from the album, peaking at No. 73 on the Hot 100 and No. 22 on the Mainstream Rock chart, while the album also stalled at a lowly No. 73.

Still, The Hurting is considered a seminal effort. In the Trouser Press Record Guide, Ira Robbins called it "one of the '80s most astonishing debuts." Noting the album's dour lyrical content, he added, "It's disconcerting to find yourself humming along with such misery, but The Hurting is an excellent, mature record." It also paved the way for the band's future success, including 1985's U.S. chart-topper Songs From The Big Chair and 1989's top-10 hit album The Seeds Of Love.

With that success, however, came the pressure and stress that often rips bands apart. After the tour supporting The Seeds Of Love, Smith had decided he had enough. "During the recording of that album and touring the album, me and Roland weren't seeing eye to eye," Smith says. "I think it was also the pressure of fame and my marriage broke up during that time and I meet my now-wife, we've been together 25 years now. She lived in New York, so I moved to New York. It all seemed right for me to move to New York and disappear and it was the wisest move I ever made."

After the breakup, Orzabal continued to record as Tears For Fears with some success while Smith pursued a solo career, before the duo reunited in 2000. Everybody Loves a Happy Ending following in 2004, but the Tears For Fears story isn't quite over yet.

The duo is currently working on their new album, with hopes of releasing it next summer. "We never really plan a date particularly. Sometimes albums can be quick, sometimes they take forever," Smith says, "and we're very good at taking forever."

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