The New Tears For Fears Album Is Right On Time
The Tipping Point offers introspection and gives hope to a hurting, mad world.
By Kristi York Wooten
Tears for Fears' music has addressed the worries of our war-torn planet for nearly four decades.
The duo's first three albums served as bunkers for the nuclear age: The Hurting (1983) and Songs from the Big Chair (1985) lurked inside our gray matter with Gorbachev’s port-wine birthmark and Rocky IV; their 1989 triumph, The Seeds of Love, fused itself to the falling Berlin Wall. In the 1990s, singers Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith recorded separately, with the former flying the banner for 1993's Elemental and 1995's Raoul and the Kings of Spain; their 2004 reunion yielded Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, released during the U.S. "War on Terror" at a time when former Soviet countries and China were seen as less threatening than Al-Qaeda. Fast forward to 2022, and Tears for Fears' first album in 18 years arrives on the same day that Ukrainians take up arms to save their country from a bloody Russian invasion.
We've reached The Tipping Point.
Orzabal and Smith never intended for their catalog to align with a calendar of Cold War events stretching across two millennia. They simply bottled the zeitgeist of an existential era by juxtaposing sparkling melodies and global anxieties. That’s why 1985’s "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" continues to resonate as one of the most-streamed songs of its decade. Today, the iron curtain is drawing new borders by force, and Tears for Fears are still around to help us cope with the turmoil. The Tipping Point represents some of their best work and is the perfect soundtrack for these nervous days.
From the spare acoustic guitar in “No Small Thing” to the simple piano chords of “Please Be Happy” (written by Orzabal and collaborates Sacha Skarbek and Charlton Pettus for his late wife, and sung here by Smith), the lean synthesizers of “My Demons,” and Smith’s exquisite high tenor on the re-introduced “Stay” (which originally appeared on a 2017 greatest hits package), there's no room for fat or bombast. Every bar of accordion or strings has its place. These guys are no longer telling us to “Shout” primal screams. Instead, the lyrics direct us to look inward and remain open to change. In a nutshell: We should break the man, wash away the pain, stay off the devil’s playground, and lift the veil. Ghosts are knocking at the door and it's all or nothing. So, please don’t worry.
As billions of phones glow orange with real-time footage of the fiery blasts in Kyiv, hearing "End of Night" confirms that grief and hope are collective experiences. "No need to worry about the world," Orzabal and Smith harmonize in Beatles fashion, "You can't see the beauty for all the hurt. Turn the world around. Blind them with your sound, 'cause it's the end of night." We sing along and fill our Instagrams with images of blue-and-gold flags. If only peace would come in the morning.
On the journey through The Tipping Point, emotions and memories co-mingle across miles and years: Are we adults in the 21st century or are we teenagers at high school in the 1980s, trying to figure out the difference between perestroika and incineration by fission? Are we the somber child on the album cover of The Hurting or grown-ups curled in our chairs, searching for answers without a “Master Plan” in a post-truth society? All of the above? This album is the culmination of our lifelong kinship with Tears for Fears. Theirs are the falsettos of fathers and friends who have been through love and loss but did not give up on themselves or their audience.
Our connections to their music run decades-deep, and "Rivers of Mercy" is where Orzabal invites us in for the close-up, closer than we've ever been before. "The streets have started burning," he sings in his lower register. “...To hell with my immunity, gonna hold you close till the shadows disappear." An atmospheric groove kicks in, and a lump in the throat becomes a tearful release. The isolation, the undertow of pandemic, sirens, protests, gunfire, and chaos give way to Smith and a choir of voices as they plead together, “Drop me in rivers of mercy" with Orzabal chiming in, "Dare I imagine some faith and understanding?”
Beneath the surface, the classic Tears for Fears keyboards, bass, and arpeggiated guitars thrum in a circular motion, like the propellers of a boat, gaining speed quietly, pushing us toward land where the sunflowers grow, where realism and idealism meet. The song ends gently as its message lingers. It is an incredible gift with impeccable timing.
Whether at war with ourselves or watching the leaders of nations take us to the brink of extinction, we need each other for survival. This is what the music of Tears for Fears has taught us, spin after spin, stream after stream, world without end.
Photo: Tears for Fears Facebook