One of the most successful acts to emerge from the early 80s synth pop scene, this is an album from that scene that has aged particularly well, simply because of the quality of their songwriting. The album's austere, processional pop music sounds just as fresh twenty years later. Inspired by the trendy "Primal Scream" therapy, the lyrics wallow in negative emotions. These themes get a little tired over the course of a whole album, but it's the tunes which are its strength.
The high point is of course "Mad World", its determined minor-chord tune and angular rhythm never letting up. It has been better known in the last couple of years from Gary Jules's piano-ballad cover, which removed its sharp edge, but a song like this is impossible to really murder. "Pale Shelter" is its lesser cousin, a slick piece of casual pop but marred by Curt Smith's limp vocals. Lesser known tracks "Memories Fade" and "Watch Me Bleed" are more punchy, presenting an almost gothic miserablism with uplifting tunes and choruses. Throughout the arrangements are constantly inventive. Their more experimental side shines with the bare soulful "Ideas as Opiates". The industrial clanker "The Prisoner" is reminiscent of early New Order.
Their second album, the more stadium-proportioned "Songs from the Big Chair" would be more mature and assured, even though it seems to be more acceptable to prefer their youthful debut. But taken both together, they speak for themselves as to why Tears for Fears were one of the most inventive pop bands of the 1980s.
October 10, 2004