Adolescence was not Curt Smith’s idea of a good time. His parents separated when he was very young. To get attention, he took up a brief life of petty crime that peaked when he was arrested for stealing cameras from his school in Bath, England. Then his best friend, Roland Orzabal, insisted that he read Arthur Janov’s Primal Scream.
Janov’s premise about the suppression of feelings and the childhood roots of adult neuroses made a lot of sense to Smith. Orzabal, who was also a problem child and who lived with his divorced mother, was ecstatic. After he had read Janov’s book, he says, “I rushed out to everybody I knew and started blubbering to them about it. Everybody thought I was a nutter. The only person who could see any sense in it was Curt.”
As Tears for Fears, Smith and Orzabal, both twenty-three, have since turned their primal screaming into a successful New Wave act. The pair’s 1983 debut album, The Hurting, topped a million in world sales and spawned three Top Five singles in England. Their latest LP, Songs from the Big Chair, could beat that. “Shout” has already been a major Common Market hit, while in America, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” a sober synth-bop number with a catchy chorus and a surprising heavy-metal guitar solo, has cracked the Top Twenty.
“What Americans are getting at the moment,” admits Orzabal, referring to the blatant simplicity of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” “is watered-down Tears for Fears.” Elsewhere on The Big Chair, the duo jazz up their Janov with the hushed introspection of “I Believe” and the droll humor of the “Shaft”-like string introduction to “Mothers Talk” (which is actually a computer sample of strings pinched from a Barry Manilow record).
Tears for Fears’ slick studio confections lack the crude confessional intensity of Plastic Ono Band, John Lennon‘s classic 1970 album, which was also inspired by Janov’s theories, and Smith gets annoyed when “people think we’re being heavy about something that, to us, is perfectly obvious.” He admits, however, that he and Orzabal took themselves “too seriously on the first album.”
“There was a fear,” adds Orzabal, “that people would think we were indoctrinating them.” As a result, they exchanged the brooding tone of “Mad World” and “Pale Shelter” on The Hurting for the more commercial sound of The Big Chair. Yet when he came up with the rah-rah chorus for “Shout,” Orzabal says, “I thought it was too simple, a bit crass.”
Friends since age thirteen, Orzabal and Smith have tried nearly every form of rock, past and present, in their eager quest for self-expression. Orzabal persuaded his pal to become a singer after he heard Smith warbling along to a Blue Öyster Cult record. As Graduate, their first recording band, the pair specialized in Beatlesque power pop. They also went through a brief sensitive-folkie phase before forming Tears for Fears, releasing their first single, “Suffer the Children,” in England in 1982.
The two are not upset that most of their amateur psychology sails right over the heads of their fans, most of whom are teenage girls. They are touchy, though, about comparisons to Wham! and other British pinup duos. Tears for Fears were invited to open a few arena shows for Wham! during that band’s planned U.S. tour this summer; they graciously declined.
“I think they’re big fans of ours,” Orzabal figures. “Under those glamorous tans, they are really two very depressed individuals.”
This story is from the June 6th, 1985 issue of Rolling Stone.