In October 2021, Tears for Fears announced plans to release their first album of new material in 17 years. Titled The Tipping Point, the album (their seventh) is due to hit the shelves in February 2022. If you either weren’t around in the 1980s or don’t listen to anything made pre Y2K, you might have been slightly bemused by the resulting fuss. If you were and do, you’ll understand all too well. They might only have been around for a brief time, but Tear for Fears represented all that was good and great about the ’80s, delivering highly intelligent, superbly infectious synth-pop that captured the zeitgeist of the decade while still being utterly timeless. Here’s how we rank all six Tears for Fears albums.
After personal tensions between founding members Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith drove Smith to quit the band in 1990, Orzabal was left to continue Tears for Fears as the sole remaining member. Despite being billed as a Tears for Fears album, 1993’s Elemental is, for all extents and purposes, a Roland Orzabal solo album, and not a particularly good one at that. Described by The New York Times as “straining self-consciously to make grand statements that lack the concision and spontaneity of Tears for Fears’ best early work,” the album failed to reach the commercial highs of the band’s previous efforts, bringing their run of platinum-selling records to end.
5. Raoul and the Kings of Spain
Tears for Fears’ second album without any involvement from Curt Smith is Raoul and the Kings of Spain. Released in October 1995, it became the band’s first album to chart outside the top 40 in both the US and UK, and the first that failed to receive any form of certification from either the RIAA or BPI. The critical reception was equally limp, with Orzabal’s lyrics describes as “either inscrutable or embarrassingly silly”) taking much of the stick. It’s not completely devoid of merit (both Secrets and Sketches of Pain are pretty enough) but the lack of innovation and absence of memorable moments are hard to ignore.
4. Everybody Loves a Happy Ending
After two poorly received albums that left fans uncertain (and, in many cases, completely disinterested) in the band’s future, Tears for Fears returned with a bang in 2004 with the triumphant Everybody Loves a Happy Ending. It had been nine years since their last album, and in that time, Smith and Orzabal had patched up their differences and reunited the band under its original lineup. Although it’s not in the same class as their first three albums, it’s still an excellent addition to their catalog, with as much to offer causal fans as the hardcore devotees.
3. The Seeds of Love
After two hugely successful albums, Tears for Fears were firmly established as one of the biggest pop acts around by the close of the 1980s. Determined to make it three times lucky, their record label threw £1 million (the equivalent to £2.5 million today) at their third album. Fortunately, it paid off – released in September 1989, The Seeds of Love debuted at number one on the UK Albums Chart and charted within the top ten in the US and several other countries. It’s since certified platinum in both the UK and US. Although the critical reception was less effusive than it had been for their previous two albums, it’s still an astonishingly accomplished effort, and in some ways, the most sophisticated and mature album in their catalog. Standout tracks include the transcendent album-opener Woman in Chains (which features superlative support from vocalist/pianist Oleta Adams), Standing on the Corner of the Third World, and the moody closer, Famous Last Words. Unfortunately, the album proved the band’s undoing. During the recording process, personal tensions between Smith and Orzabal began bubbling over. By the time they came to the end of their 1990 world tour, Smith had left, leaving Orzabal to continue waving the Tears for Fears flag alone until they reunited in the early 2000s.
2. The Hurting
It’s not often that a band perfects their vision on their very first outing, but The Hurting, Tears for Fears’ 1983 debut, is unquestionably one of their very finest moments. On paper, it doesn’t sound like a hit. A loose concept album built around a tracklist that explores themes of depression, psychological trauma, and child abuse, it should be about as much fun as a punch from Tyson Fury. But while the subject matter is unpleasant, it’s packaged in such an attractive, compelling format, it can’t help but be an enjoyable listen. In essence, it’s a bundle of contradictions, taking the listener on a hugely adventurous sonic journey that will leave them wondering whether to hum along or cry. Not everyone got it, but enough did to turn it into a major hit. Released in March 1983, the album hit number 1 in the UK and certified gold within three weeks. Just over a year later, it certified platinum.
1. Songs From the Big Chair
Two years after astonishing (and bewildering) the world with their hugely complex debut, Tears for Fears returned with their sophomore album, Songs From the Big Chair. Released in February 1995, it peaked at number two in the UK and at number one in the US, eventually certifying multi-platinum in both countries. Looser and just a tiny bit cheerier than their debut, but with the same resolute lyrical honesty, it was treated to a warm welcome from music journalists, with Melody Maker summing up the consensus by calling it “an excellent album” that “fully justifies the rather sneering, told-you-so looks adopted by Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal on the sleeve.” There’s not a bad song among the bunch, but the dramatic Shout and shimmering Head Over Heels deserve a special mention… as, of course, does the phenomenally successful, wonderfully dreamy Everybody Wants to Rule the World, a timeless classic that has every right to call itself one of the most seminal tracks of the 1980s.