Tears for Fears • Songs from the Big Chair

Mercury/Mobile Fidelity MFSL MOR1-033
Single LP
1984/2012

Music

Sound

Tears for Fears • The Seeds of Love

Mercury/Mobile Fidelity MFSL MOR1-034
Single LP
1989/2012

Music

Sound

by Eric Hetherington | February 5, 2013

ears for Fears -- the duo of Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal, with the aid of additional musicians -- formed in 1981, their debut album, 1983‘s The Hurting, sharing common ground with the work of paradigmatic '80s bands like Depeche Mode and the Cure. Their second album, Songs from the Big Chair, retained some of the same sound but moved the band closer to straight-ahead pop and claimed the number-one spot on the Billboard charts for five weeks during the summer of 1985. It featured two songs -- "Shout" and "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" -- that, for many people, define both the band and mid-'80s pop music. Whether a strength or detriment, the album is deeply rooted in its historical context, and I’m not sure how it will be appreciated by those who were not the target audience at the time. The Seeds of Love (1989) moved the band even more towards the middle of the road with songs that sometimes hearken back to the Beatles but more often resemble smooth jazz in both tone and arrangement.

"Shout" opens Songs from the Big Chair with a simple arrangement that is presented boldly. Everything sounds bigger than life, and the percussion and bass anchor vocals that fill the room. While "Shout" has raw energy and momentum, it's a classic of the time, not a timeless classic. "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" and "Head over Heels" are decent pop songs. "Mothers Talk" presents a master class in mid-'80s synth/guitar/percussion and calls to mind a less avant-garde the Art of Noise.

The songwriting on the band’s later-'80s records is in many ways more adventurous than that of the first album, but by the third album the emotional content seems blunted, as if Mr. Spock took over production duties. The arrangements at times are dated (the percussion, bass and saxophone in particular), but there is a sense of allowing each song to develop. Nothing seems rushed, either in time or production, with many of the songs on both albums going longer than six minutes. The energy present on Songs from the Big Chair does not make the transition to The Seeds of Love. Even its more raucous moments -- such as the beginning and guitar solo of "Badman’s Song" -- sound overly polite. Vocal lines are delivered with attempted emotion. The lyric delivery during "Standing on the Corner of the Third World" seems as if, at the last minute, the duo decided it would be better not to upset anyone. Alas, mannered, grownup company is not always what one wants from pop music.

I could not possibly count the number of times I’ve heard "Shout," but this Mobile Fidelity LP made present small guitar parts of the song that I had never noticed before. The percussive thump and snap of the Mobile Fidelity pressing had physical presence rather than merely intangible drum sounds. The closing track, "Listen," has some production tricks that audiophiles might enjoy: various sounds -- percussive footsteps, operatic vocals -- float in and out of the mix, but the track tries too hard to be a song without ever really achieving its goal.

Listening to these two records makes it obvious that production values mattered to the band; by the time of The Seeds of Love, perhaps they mattered too much. It makes for a clean and clear presentation audiophiles might admire, but saps emotional involvement with the music. On both albums, the soundstage does not convey a physical space, but it is wide and spacious. Nothing sounds congested, vocals and instruments having space to breathe. Some songs, such as "Sowing the Seeds of Love," have a purposefully cacophonous mix, but even instruments lower in the mix -- like the cymbals -- sound right and don’t degenerate into a dull fuzz. The production values on the The Seeds of Love surpass those of Songs from the Big Chair, but it simply doesn't live up to the musical standards of the earlier record.

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