Britain’s Tears for Fears stand out among the current crop of identikit synth-pop groups by virtue of their resourceful, stylish songwriting and fetching rhythmic sway. Granted, the adolescent angst and bleak, pained romanticism of singer-instrumentalists Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal sometimes come off as an adequate imitation of Joy Division, at best. But for every lapse into sackcloth-and-ashes anguish on The Hurting, the duo’s debut album, there is a heady, danceable pop tune like “Change.” On that track, a breathless core riff and nervous percussion accelerate the song’s strong disco pulse. And on both “Mad World” and “Pale Shelter,” beguiling hooks and panoramic guitar effects suck the listener into dizzy whirlpools of cleverly synthesized orchestration. “Start of the Breakdown” is a successful venture into artier territory, a macabre play-by-play of emotional collapse that’s heightened by the stark contrast of exotic percussion flourishes and a bleak, descending keyboard motif.
Tears for Fears may be too concerned with their own petty traumas, but it is a testimony to their refined pop instincts that they manage to produce this much pleasure from the pain.
This story is from the July 7th, 1983 issue of Rolling Stone.