“Now, now, now, have you no ambitions?” – Tears for Fears
Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith met as teenagers in England in the 1970’s and have been connected ever since with their band Tears for Fears. They have been through the ups and downs afforded any duo that has a longevity like they do – excitement, passion, stardom, superstardom, complacency, struggles, boredom, separation, reconciliation, reunion, and a different cycle begins anew. Both now in their early 60’s, I wonder if they hear the aforementioned line from their very simple love song “Head Over Heels,” and the words wash over them differently and with a whole new perspective and meaning than they did when they were written and sung by them back in their mid 20’s. I’m sure it has to.
Sometimes I write and edit and read these posts that marry “one foot in the past” with the present, and I just think to myself “you’re just, just, just wasting time.” Quit looking back so much to your youthful musical passions. Look ahead! Be in the present! Forget about 1985 Tears for Fears! Focus on 2022 Tears for Fears instead!
But how can we focus or learn anything about 2022 TFF without knowing who 1985 TFF was? I’ve read that people who have above average nostalgic tendencies are thought to be more aware of who they once were, and are able to compare it to who they are today thus understanding themselves better than most others. Maybe that’s what this post is all about. Sometimes I don’t even know where these words will lead me other than ultimately to some great music. There are certain Enneagram numbers and Meyers-Briggs personality abbreviations for those of us that enjoy a hearty helping of past times, but I do wonder sometimes if too much of the past is a hindrance for living in the present.
“I made a fire, and watching it burn
Thought of your future”
In reading all-things Tears for Fears over the past several days, I’ve realized that if Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith didn’t look back at who they once were, then they may have never felt the need for TFF to have a legacy that now stretches into 2022. Orzabal lost his wife in 2017 (more on that below), and he was quoted recently with the following revelation:
“I thought that was it, because Caroline had gone, Alan Griffiths” (– a long-time Tears for Fears collaborator) – “was gone, and immediately my mind went to Curt. That’s when I thought: This guy’s really important. It was obvious – it’s really obvious to a lot of people – but then all of a sudden you think, Oh no, this partnership is right, we’ve done great things. And the story’s not over – thank God!”
Thank God, indeed. And speaking of Curt, he had spent the better part of the last 20 years being a stay-at-home dad to his two daughters whom didn’t even realize was a famous musician in their younger years, but was instead just a dad that “went to the gym.” Smith did some acting and has a handful of solo albums, but his artistic legacy lay with a band who hadn’t produced any meaningful work in 17 years, hadn’t had any minor hits since the early 90’s and no major hit since 1986’s “Sowing the Seeds of Love.”
The acting part was interesting though and led me down this rabbit hole: Did you know Curt Smith was a guest star on the old comedy-drama detective show “Psych”? My wife and I watched this show on the regular between 2006-2014, and I have absolutely no memory of Smith appearing on the show, but he did in episodes from seasons five, seven, and eight. He even sang at show’s final wrap party in 2013 with the stars of the show (James Roday, Dule’ Hill, and Timothy Omundson) providing backing vocals onstage. (By the way, check out Dule’ Hill’s dance moves that are straight from the actual 1985 TFF video that begin at the 3:46 mark).
At some point I’m going to have to find the “Psych” episodes Curt appeared in and watch them.
“In my mind’s eye
One little boy, one little man
Funny how time flies”
I saw Tears for Fears in concert along with Hall and Oates in Tulsa in May 2017, and one of the reasons I wanted to feature this duo is because they just released their seventh studio album and first one since 2004’s “Everyone Loves a Happy Ending,” (which I’ll admit I’ve never listened to). Seventeen years since their last album speaks to the complexities of musical relationships for sure. Smith and Orzabal have had a musical marriage of sorts where I’m sure they’ve occasionally thought of themselves as a couple “married with a lack of vision.” I think what the 17 year hiatus ultimately showed Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith is that they each will forever be intertwined into the other’s life, but also with the knowledge that there is an incredible legacy that still has some blank pages with words waiting to fill them.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we all have relationships like that. And the words are waiting.
“And this is my four leaf clover
I’m on the line, one open mind
This is my four leaf clover.”
Before we get to their new album, let’s put one foot in the past with a look back to that simple love song from 1985. The song only reached #12 in their homeland, but peaked at #3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. It was the fourth single from their massively successful “Songs From the Big Chair” album. With Roland on lead vocals, here is Tears for Fears with their attempt to put together a comical video featuring a monkey wearing a Red Sox jersey, keyboardist Ian Stanley’s creepy “you-don’t-want-to-know-what-I-did-last-night” stare, and their drummer, Manny Elias, dressed like an Amish man. This is “Head Over Heels”
I mentioned above that Roland Orzabal’s wife of 35 years passed away. It was in July of 2017 after years of battling alcohol-related problems that resulted in both physical and mental conditions. They had two grown children at the time, and I think about how difficult it must have been for Roland to be thousands of miles away opening up a tour in Tulsa, Oklahoma. By this time it had been 13 years since the band had released any new material, so I can imagine the passion and the ambition were both low at a time when his wife was just weeks away from passing. Why would he even be touring at this time he now refers to part of his “five years of Hell”? Well, the lead single from their 2022 album by the same name, “The Tipping Point,” is about that time of grief and loss and a look into his mindset during that time.
Orzabal commented that the lyrics “came at a time when my (late) wife was very ill. I was watching her become a ghost of her former self. So the song’s narrator is in a hospital ward looking at people about to cross the threshold that we call death….The line in the song says, ‘Will you ever know when it’s the Tipping Point?’ meaning, will you ever know when a person has crossed that threshold from life to death when you cannot even perceive that ‘vague and distant void’ as it’s described in the lyric.”
He went onto say: “I have to admit that even in March 2016 when I was read the riot act by doctors about Caroline possibly not making it through the weekend, I was still in denial. I think that when you’ve been close to someone for decades, they are living within you as well as without. And consciously I did not believe she would die, though subconsciously I was, without doubt, preparing for the inevitable, arming myself against the future shock.”
Out of years of pain and grief and obstinance, new life has spawned from the band, and I for one am happy for it. I’ve always liked their sound and even their distinctive looks – Roland with his great 80’s mullet and Curt with his slicked back Pat Riley-like hair. Roland is now remarried rocking the cool long gray hair and beard, and Curt’s children now know that their father is not just a dad who goes to the gym.
Their first single in 17 years – “The Tipping Point,” has a very classic TFF sound. If you liked this duo back in the 80’s, I really think you’ll like this particular single (“No Small Thing” another favorite of mine from this album has a very Lumineers-like sound). You may even give the full album a spin while you’re at it – I have a few times already. The musical landscape and the Tears for Fears universe is certainly better for it. Plus, you get to see Orzabal and Smith age 35+ years from the previous video. Still very cool and distinctive looking, check out the video (sorry no monkey in this one) from one of my favorite singles of 2022 so far – “The Tipping Point…”