Tears for Fears

Coming off three worldwide hits and constant MTV rotation, Tears for Fears entered the studio with lofty expectations and a blank checkbook. These were the days when the Eagles would spend weeks, and tens of thousands of dollars, tweaking the kick drum sound on a song as lame as “Heartache Tonight.” Studio excesses were the orange M & M’s for the day’s top artists. But as Steely Dan proved with Gaucho, time and money don’t replace inspiration. Making an excellent record was not just a matter of getting the right musicians, unlimited blow, and a famous studio. It also had to do with having great songs.

While nothing on “Sowing the Seeds of Love” comes close to being as catchy as “Everybody Wants To Rule the World” (what did?), it does take their music further than it had ever been before. It also achieves that rarest of musical feats: something that can be taken as a whole. Seeds work like an elaborate song cycle. Not as hypnotic as Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” or cerebral as the Who’s “Tommy”  “Seeds of Love” is equally artful. Seeds have terrific moments of song craft, singing, lyrical inventiveness, stellar musicianship, and show-off production. The CD itself sounds fantastic. The engineering is superb.

There are many collaborators on Seeds, most notably Oleta Adams. Plucked from a bar in Kansas City during a TFF tour, Oleta brings the soul to the proceedings through her husky voice and Pentecostal give-me-a-hallelujah piano. The call and response between her and Roland, reworked in concert to include songs like Believe, would highlight their tour that year. Adams was a real find, earning a Grammy nomination while building a successful solo career.

As he was apt to do all through the 80s, Phil Collins cameos and turns in a solid performance trying to recreate In the Air Tonight’s dramatic drum entrance yet again. It’s nowhere near as good – try Against All Odds – that’s almost as good.

Co-writing 5 of the eight songs on the CD (with Orzabal), much credit should be given to pianist Nicky Holland for the feel of the record. A flair for subtle melodies and a skilled right hand on the acoustic piano is on display here (and on her two under-appreciated solo CDs). “Advice for the Young at Heart” and “Famous Last Words” show how this lovely touch elevates the song beyond pop into something more lush and spacious.

The rhythm section was stellar. Peter Gabriel drummer Manu Katche never sounded better than on “Badman’s Song.” Talk about a kick drum sound – check that out – the Eagles could have learned a thing or two from that track. Pino Paladino plays, as always, great bass. Many of these songs started as jams between Katche, Paladino, Hopkins, and Orzabal. This makes sense as their interplay is fluid and dynamic. Trumpeter Jon Hassell adds some nice color to “Standing on the Corner of the Third World.” The Holland/Orzabal compositions on Seeds take TFF sonically beyond anything on Chair or The Hurting regarding scope and execution.

The seeds title track is quite a number. An everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production – and blatant homage to the Beatles – brilliantly captures psychedelia and optimism, allowing us to smell the patchouli practically. At the same time, Roland sings proudly, “I love a Sunflower!” Nothing so groovy has been produced since (except for some World Party and Austin Powers). A song that is derivative, respectful, and original simultaneously. Try that sometime.

The real star of the show is Roland Orzabal. His vocals, songs, and, one would suppose, his vision made the record what it is. Curt Smith’s contributions are less evident here – besides his lovely tenor on “Advice for the Young at Heart.”  In interviews, it seems there was lots of collaboration between Smith and Orzabal on this record. Those comparisons to Andrew Ridgley were mean and ungrounded. Orzabal and Smith share production credits on the form. Plus, Smith plays a terrific bass guitar.

After this record, Smith, and Orzabal took a break from each other. Two “Orzabal only” Tears for Fears projects, “Elemental” and “Raoul and the Kings of Spain,” came. Both are terrific records and worth seeking out. But neither has the confidence and grandeur found in Seeds. It’s simply a beautiful record.

“Kick out the Style, bring back the Jam!”

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