All-Time Albums: #4


TEARS FOR FEARS Songs From The Big Chair

1 Shout 6:32 (UK single, #4)
The Working Hour 6:31
Everybody Wants To Rule The World 4:11 (UK single, #2)
Mothers Talk 5:10 (UK single, #14)
5 I Believe 4:54 (UK single re-recorded, #23)
6 Broken 2:38
7 Head Over Heels / Broken (Live) 5:02 (Head Over Heels UK single, #12)
8 Listen 6:49

…AKA How To Turn Around A Faltering Career.

Come the start of 1984, Tears For Fears were at something of a crossroads; barely a year after making a breakthrough with Mad World and their chart-topping debut album The Hurting. Quickly becoming a favourite of the Smash Hits crowd thanks to catchy tunes set to (very) introspective and (very) angst-ridden lyrics and preoccupations, Curt and Roland were faced with following up such a successful record. The first result was a single, The Way You Are; a weird, awkward thing with a jerky offbeat rhythm and no actual chorus. And not much of a tune, if we’re honest. It stalled at #24 on the UK chart, breaking a sequence of three consecutive Top 5 hits. Tears For Fears found themselves quite literally “going far, getting nowhere” the way they were.

And so, gentlemen, time for a rethink.

The best description of the sound of Songs From The Big Chair is muscular. It has oomph. Quite probably, it is the first Stadium Pop record of its era. On occasion, you suspect they have over-compensated for what they felt was wrong with The Way You Are; certainly the frantic (but fantastic) Mothers Talk is a fully tooled-up, pumped-up workout that must have felt like the creative equivalent of tossing out all the old rubbish and starting anew (“Frankie Goes To Hollywood meets a garage rock band”, was how they saw it). The version which ended up on the album was slightly different to the single mix bestowed upon a rather surprised public in the summer of 1984, and they would re-record it again in 1986 for the US market. Mothers Talk still only reached #14, but the corner had been turned and, along with the concept behind its experimental B-side “The Big Chair”, had laid the foundations for that difficult second album.

Shout appeared a few months later, purposeful and anthemic, yet it still took a while to wind its way up the Top 40 (an opening run of 45-35-32 must have sent the Polygram bods into a cold sweat). Once there, however, it established itself as a modern classic, and re-established the duo as major popstars. From the “oh shit, what now?” feelings of New Year 1984, to “look ma, we’re on top of the world” (well, a cliff on the south coast anyway) 12 months later. Next up, Head Over Heels.

Or not. Despite this confident assertion on the sleevenotes accompanying Shout, the strategy changed and it was Everybody Wants To Rule The World that launched the album campaign, and their American career. Based on “Waterfront” by Simple Minds, it was the track which really made Songs From The Big Chair the global, multi-platinum phenomenon it became. It’s a pure pop song, magical in its apparent simplicity, and perfect for Curt Smith to take on lead vocal duties for the first time since Pale Shelter several singles before.

The rest of the album was given towards weightier topics, save for Head Over Heels which ended up in a Broken sandwich (and thus became a nightmare for all C90 compilation addicts the world over). The Working Hour was its undoubted centrepiece, a Roland tour-de-force based on a simple, but effective, cascading chord sequence. By placing it next to Shout, the album was almost 15 minutes in before the third song began, a brave move for an Eighties pop band (“so sad we had to fade it” indeed!).

Side Two was even braver, opening with the self-styled soul baring balladry of I Believe. Again, it would be revisited – as “A Soulful Re-Recording” – for single release, the earnestness of the new subtitle a sign of things to come, as that elusive artistic authenticity nearly sent them mad in the (four year) course of recording The Seeds Of Love. Broken sounded like a leftover from The Hurting era, and it was even performed as part of their live shows during the tour for that album. Old song segues into new song which segues into a “Live” version of the old song, which itself blends into a graceful instrumental about the Russian Revolution, does not sound like the best formula for a best-selling album, but nobody seemed to mind. Listen also worked extremely well as the closing music during the Big Chair tour.

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