Long-time fans of Tears for Fears know that the path has never been easy for the duo who comprise the band due to several factors, including the fractious relationship between the two principles. When indications that the pair were once again going to release fresh material started to emerge, many were leery of those pronouncements based on past disappointments. The long wait is over as Tears for Fears releases their seventh studio album, The Tipping Point. An album inspired by current events and personal losses. The offering displays that the duo continues to have something important to say in their own unique way.
For the uninitiated, Tears for Fears in the late ’80s was epic; they sold 30 million copies over three blockbuster albums, The Hurting, Songs from the Big Chair and Sowing the Seeds of Love. At the turn of the new decade, a sea change in popular musical direction occurred, while significant acrimony developed between band founders Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, causing the band to implode overnight seemingly. Smith quit the band, and Tears for Fears became a solo effort for Orzabal. Decades passed, and in 2004 the band attempted a reboot with the album, Everybody Loves a Happy Ending. The album would bring the principles back together, but the album gathered little notice. It would take another decade and a half to see their newest effort final reach the launching pad.
Even with the reunion, the creation of The Tipping Point had a rocky start. The two went through a long list of today’s hit-making producers who attempted to recreate Tears for Fears’ past glories, leaving the duo with a lot of snappy lifeless songs. The songs lacked what the band thought should be artistry, vitality or deep meaning. Smith walked away feeling the project was nothing he wanted to continue at one point. Later after putting aside all the outside forces, the two rediscovered a working relationship that went back to basics. They began again simply in a room with acoustic guitars in hand. Once again, the pair hit an intensely creative period. The Tipping Point would result in an album filled with both personal and political insight. One part commentary on our sorry condition as a society and second part analyzing the duo’s personal journeys, including Orzabal’s searing experiences with the death of his wife, Caroline, in 2017.
The Tipping Point launches with “No Small Thing”, a beautiful stripped-down acoustic track filled with swirling Wurlitzer organs. It mirrors the familiar harmonies of Tears for Fears’ classics while displaying mature men informed about life’s pathways. The selection is a heartfelt discussion about loss, comfort, and your response when the person you always turn to is gone. The song reflects everything Tears for Fears does best.
The title track “The Tipping Point” provides sensuous, flickering sonics that could be an updated offering off of Elemental. The narrative displays the protagonist watching someone crossing the threshold of life into what comes next while examining how we never really take in what is about to happen even when we know someone is dying. The selection is brilliant as Tears for Fears pulls off that almost impossible feat of producing alluring sonics while delivering a gut-punch of a theme.
“Long, Long, Long Time” Speaks to age and the passage of time. Sonically it could have been the follow up to songs from Sowing the Seeds of Love displaying that Orzabal’s voice beautifully still holds its own. The summation of the song is that with death, there is no choice but to let go, again referring to his wife’s passing. Overall, the song captures what makes Tears for Fears unique while modernizing their approach.
“Break the Man” effectively marries synthesizers to horn elements on another engaging track. Discussed are personal relationships, not being fooled by alluring imagery, and the realization that time is not infinite. The frenetic “My Demons” displays what I had hoped the duo would evolve into, with the song masterfully balancing an energetic sonic with serious introspection. The lyrics examine if our modern world is any better than the past when the same problems still exist. However, it is not all outward examination as inner demons are examined along with the problems of self-absorption. Instead of Orzabal and Smith seeming to have all the answers like when they were younger, they now wonder if there are any answers.
The two “Do Not Miss” tracks of the release are “Rivers of Mercy” and “Please Be Happy”. The first is a starkly beautiful track containing swirling trademark piano work and a heart rendering dialogue about sorrow and loss. Realizing the only comforts are provided by family, friends and belief. These provide the ability to be dropped in rivers of mercy as faith turns fear into hope. The second track, “Please Be Happy”, is truly a personal outing for Orzabal, as he tracks his wife’s depression which started her ultimate unravelling. He watches his wife go through depression and then fall into the illness that finally takes her into its undertow. He confesses to guilt as he pleads for her to overcome the unsurmountable. The sonics reflect a wave starting starkly, then turning orchestral and ending in sombre quiet. The two tracks are masterworks.
“Master Plan” is a pixelated rocker that avows the realization that you” Need a lot of rage to get by these days… you need a lot of faith to reach the sun”. The song is filled with classic Tears for Fears sonic/narrative drama. “End of Night” is notable for the synth roar and Orzabal delivering some righteous operatic vocals in the closing moments. The final track, “Stay”, was reformulated from a best-of compilation release and serves as a perfect closer to an offering that questions death, sorrow and loss. Its ethereal sonics serve the theme of the track and the album well. It Is a final examination of the contradictions of life, wishing loved ones to remain while not wanting them to suffer another moment in pain. The phantasmagoric signoff is mantra-like as the album drifts off into the ether.
When a fabled band returns to release new work, there is always a concern. The question of if a band should even attempt to reach for the pinnacle of their past success beckons. However, in Tears for Fears case, they affirmatively answer that question. Tragic events often spur artists to great creations, and this album certainly follows that construct.
The Tipping Point is cathartic, searingly traumatic, soaring, wisdom-filled and transforms all those things into transcendent art. The undertone is mourning, but the duo does not abandon the listener; they also offer hope and recovery. The release should bring in new converts, and long-term Tears for Fears fans should be thrilled with this long-awaited return. The Tipping Point is a strong, fantastic return for a fabled and often undervalued band.