Tears for Fears surprised fans this week with their first song in almost a decade — a cover of Arcade Fire’s “Ready to Start” — to tease the British band’s reissue of its 1983 debut, The Hurting, and first studio album since 2004. And as the band explained to Rolling Stone this week, the cover was key to the group’s ongoing recording process.
“The idea was before we actually had any material, before we got together, that we might try and do a couple of cover versions to sort of kick-start the recording process again,” Roland Orzabal says. “I had that bloody melody going round and round and round in my head,” he said of choosing the 2010 Arcade Fire single, adding, “It’s not like the original.”
Indeed, Tears for Fears’ synth-pop version features a layered string arrangement over a heavy drum-and-bass backbeat, quite unlike Arcade Fire’s guitar-driven original. The recording is a nod to those who have long covered and sampled the group, including Adam Lambert, whose take on “Mad World” — the highest-charting single from The Hurting — stunned an American Idol audience several years ago.
The impact of Tears for Fears’ debut was evident from its unseating of Michael Jackson’s Thriller from the top of the U.K. Albums Chart in March 1983. Thirty years later, on October 22nd in the U.S. (and October 21st outside North America) The Hurting gets the deluxe treatment: a box set pairing the remastered record with two CDs of remixes and B-sides, including the early “Suffer the Children” and “Pale Shelter” singles. A DVD of In My Mind’s Eye, a 1984 concert filmed in Hammersmith, will fill out the package.
In 1981 Orzabal and Curt Smith, both 20, quit the band Graduate to pursue the type of studio work they admired on albums by Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads and David Bowie. The young men put to music their following of psychologist Arthur Janov’s Primal Therapy, through which they confronted depression and the hell of their repressed adolescent trauma. Once Orzabal wrote the songs on acoustic guitar, they tracked demos at keyboardist Ian Stanley’s home studio, where he introduced them to his synthesizer and drum machine. The first song Tears for Fears recorded, “Suffer the Children,” features vocals from the woman Orzabal would wed the following year. The song went unnoticed, but the radio success of “Mad World” in 1982 teased The Hurting for several months prior to its release. “I just felt it couldn’t be anything else but a hit. It’s not about dancing on a Saturday night, or pure pop stuff,” former drummer Manny Elias says. “We were determined to do something a little different.”
In separate conversations with Rolling Stone, Orzabal and Smith agreed that while the music of the debut holds up, their views on the theories they embraced in the Eighties changed once they became fathers in the Nineties. Regarding the notion that children are born blank slates devoid of their parents’ traits, Smith says, “I can now tell you as a parent of two that is not true.” Orzabal echoes, “Having seen both my sons born, I don’t believe that now.
“What’s surprising is how we managed to achieve it in one album, to sum up the whole theory and philosophy behind who we were,” he adds. “We then became just another commercial outfit, in a sense. There was a push after The Hurting to break America. But the purity is what I like about that, listening to that now.”
It set the stage for the group’s American breakthrough, Songs From the Big Chair, in 1985. Orzabal credits its bigger sound, on songs like “Shout,” in part to the stadium-sized snare smack from Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”; the sonics shifted yet again for 1989’s The Seeds of Love, inspired by Steely Dan and The Band’s Robbie Robertson.
For their first album together since 2004’s Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, Orzabal and Smith decided last November while on a tour stop in Brazil to begin writing songs to supplement their repetitive set lists. “We felt the time was right to go and do something new,” Smith says. In July, a two-week studio jam with drummer Jamie Wollam and producer Charlton Pettus sparked some “pieces of dramatic music,” giving it the tongue-in-cheek working title of Tears for Fears: The Musical. “There’s one track that’s a combination of Portishead and Queen. It’s just crazy,” Orzabal says, adding that the record, which they expect to finish this year, will retain some of the darkness of The Hurting.
The reissue itself will retain the jacket art featured on only British pressings of The Hurting: the profile of a young boy holding his face in his hands. Mercury Records had insisted on a different cover for the U.S. release, one that would help sales by featuring a picture of the frontmen instead. “At that point in time we didn’t exactly have a lot of leverage to tell them no,” Smith says. Earlier this year, through social media, he tracked down Gebbie Serafin-Jaeger, the child from the photograph. It turns out his hurting was all in the marketing — he remembers laughing.