Review Summary: Go get a life an’ ease the pain
Curt Smith’s decision to split from the group was simple: Roland wanted a frustratingly fast pace in terms of recording and releasing material and Curt Smith’s divorce prior to The Seeds of Love world tour. Another reason include the band’s manager filing for bankruptcy and screwing the band over due to discrepancies in their paychecks. After old Curt split from Tears for Fears, old Roland was on his oddy knocky making up his rassodock what to do. After some shouting and letting it all out, the final product of sounds like a more pop oriented version of Pink Floyd’s album The Final Cut (although I actually really love that album).
Roland pretty much plays every instrument on the album with some people occasionally credited for playing an extra instrument on a single song, while also being the executive producer (besides the other exec produces; Tim Palmer [Pearl Jam] and Andy Griffiths respectively).
Listening to this record once and the listener may have a very mixed response based on their familiarity with the band: A listener who is unfamiliar with the band may acknowledge the record as an interesting psychedelic, experimental approach to Alternative/Indie rock while a person who is familiar with their work may wonder just what the hell Roland was doing in the studio.
For starters, the lyrics are all incredibly cryptic. Indeed the band has written several songs with lyrics that are hard to decipher, but the lyrics to most, if not every, song is pure nonsense. Take for example “Break it Down Again,” the biggest single on the album. The lyrics start with uplifting encouragement to “stand tall like a man” with a “head as strong like a horse” before rambling off into how rotting waste seeps underground and “Moses on a Motorbike.” “Brian Wilson Said” sounds like a cute, mediocrely generic Christmas song with lyrics so silly, absurd, Syd Barrett would turn in his grave. The only song with lyrics that are vaguely straightforward is the song “Fish Out of Water” which is practically Roland telling old Curt “How do you sleep at night you c*nt"!”
Musically, the album is an experimental hodgepodge. The opener and title track starts off with a tribal-like drum beating as if to kick-start a cult ceremony while ambient synthesizers and funky guitar licks are played in the background. Right after the first verse, the song transforms into what may sound like The Red Hot Chili Peppers attempting to perform 80s new wave music. Lyrically, the song may be about standing up for yourself in a sea of homogenic mediocrity, but more often than not the lyrics dive into an ocean of crypticness it’s hard to tell what the point Roland is trying to get across.
The next song is “Cold” in which the title derives from Roland giving a paparazzi the “cold shoulder” and the paparazzi later sending him a letter asking Roland why he is so “cold.” Right at the get-go, however, a distorted guitar drives the song into a dreamy rock atmosphere with blazing synths and subtle bass work Roland himself. Lyrically, however, the song may share a similar theme as the title track, or perhaps a love that was never meant to be, but suffers from too much silly ambiguity. The only real tangible lyric is when Roland raps (yes, raps) softly before the second chorus: “King got caught with his fingers in the till; Where's your calculator, will you leave it in your will"” King derives from the ex-manager’s name Paul King who has sued for fraud and filed for bankruptcy.
In terms of “rock” in this record, “Dog’s a Best Friend’s Dog” is a ludicrous (as well as the best) example of this. Roland literally showcases his guitar work in what sounds like a Slash-wannabe kind of way while the rest of the instruments have Heavy Metal bleeding all over it. Yes, “Dog’s a Best Friend’s Dog” is a “Heavy Metal” song making it the heaviest song Tears for Fears has ever released. There are multiple solos and plenty of guitar feedback while Roland literally barks and commands the nonsensical lyrics. The song is crazy catchy and will get every metal head listening to the song banging their heads. “Fish Out of Water” is a straightforward Indie Rock tune with lyrics taking (futile) stabs at Curt. “Goodbye Song” is a corny/generic mainstream pop-rock tune that aptly sounds like a swan song.
As I’ve said before, “Break it Down Again” is a lyrical trainwreck, but the music is very interesting, making the song much less painful than it potentially may be. The song kickstarts with triumphant synths replicating brass trumpets from heaven, while a deathly soldier drum beat loops and faint opera singers vocalize before Roland gets the song rolling with the first verse. From the first verse till its end, the song is a crazy mix between funk rock, electronic dance, and even subtle hints of hard rock in its guitar work.
“Mr. Pessimist” is arguably the most experimental song on the record. The synths are very ambient with a very jazzy piano playing behind it, artificial drums looping and guitar feedback playing very faintly in the background. The song sounds like an electronic reinterpretation of prog rock music, the song clocking over 6 minutes and interesting experimentation on the instruments towards the 1 ½ minutes of the song. Personally, the only thing I could grasp on the song’s lyrics is that it may be a stab at Christianity, especially with the overt lyric “Listen, Mr. Pessimister with your Catholic taste; We Do Not Relate!” but the lyrics tend to go on different tangents.
“Gas Giants” is a short 2 minute ambient interlude with its only lyrics being “Giants caught on Armistice Day; Caught between the rock and the renegade.” Perhaps the song is about war, Armistice Day being
a sort of thing associated with Veterans Day in the U.S. but that’s all I can guess.
“Power” sounds more like a rock oriented version of “Mr. Pessimist” but the music fails to be as captivating and ends up sounding incredibly stale and the cryptic lyrics about “seeking power; power how/power wow/*etc*” and “hungry babies coming of age.”
However, the ironic thing about the songs is that the b-sides of the single sound better than many of the songs actually on the record. “Bloodletting Go” and “Schrödinger's Cat” (B-Sides of “Break it Down Again respectively) are incredible tracks to behold. “Bloodletting Go” is a trippy ambient pop song with tangible lyrics about the toughness of not giving up; “Schrödinger's Cat” is an epic 5 minute song with Roland mumbling “Door Hinge(")” loops throughout the instrumental interludes, incredible guitar solos, and schizophrenic synth loops all backed behind Roland’s distorted vocals. Indeed the lyrics are incredibly cryptic, but so is the history behind the term “Schrodinger’s Cat” (way, way too complicated to explain) and the cryptic lyrics to nothing to stop the song from actually being one of Tears for Fears’ best songs in general.
Alas, I would love to go on about the rest of the B-Sides, but much like I cannot write a review based on my playlist of The Beatles’ White Album which excludes my least favorite songs and are replaced with my favorite songs released/recorded that time (“Hey Jude” and “What’s the New Mary Jane” for instance) I cannot rate this album encompassing the B-Sides, as competent as they are.
As an album itself, it is not all bad. On a good day, I may recommend this album if a friend is bored and wants to listen to an album that is interestingly experimental and accessible. But on a bad day, this would be one of the last albums I would recommend and certainly the last album I would recommend to a friend to get him/her to dig Tears for Fears.
Break it Down Again~2.5/5
Dog’s a Best Friend’s Dog~5/5
Fish Out of Water~3/5
Brian Wilson Said~1/5
Rating Outside of Tears for Fears’ Standards: 3/5
Rating Within Tears for Fears’ Standards: 2/5
Overall Rating: 2.5/5