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On the Record

Tears for Fears The Tipping Point

Credit: Frank Ockenfels

Artist: Tears For Fears

Album: The Tipping Point

Number of tracks:  10 (Additional 3 tracks on the Deluxe CD Edition)

Label:  Concord Records

Release Date:  February 25, 2022


In a world filled with chaos and uncertainty, Tears For Fears is here for us. From the beginning, they’ve dedicated their careers to teaching us vital lessons about life and the confluence of humanity: “Everybody wants to rule the world,” “shout (let it all out),” “high time we made a stand and shook up the views of the common man,” “keeps a woman in chains…so free her.”

And, importantly:

When people run in circles it’s a very, very
Mad world, mad world.

After 18 long years, Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal have shared their latest musical tome, The Tipping Point, one of the most anticipated — and astounding — surprises of 2022. A follow-up to 2004’s Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, the album was initiated seven years ago, and, as with all beautiful gems, developed from extremes, incarnations and intensity. The result is something strong and precious, musically diverse and inspired. Refreshingly new, The Tipping Point offers a deliberate and dignified nod to lifelong fans. “I think we’ve managed to be quite clever,” Roland says. “For instance, the title track, ‘The Tipping Point.’ We belatedly have taken the drum rhythm and drum fills from ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World,’ but that’s where the similarity ends. You have this really haunting song, and the subject matter is extremely personal. You have things like ‘Rivers of Mercy,’ which all of a sudden morphs into a reminder of ‘Woman In Chains’. You’ve got ‘Break the Man’, which is like shades of ‘Pale Shelter,’ and ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’Curt singing an up-tempo song like it was back in the ‘80s. There are lots of clever nods and winks, which fans will get.”

2017 was a year of extremes. The band released Rule the World, a best-of compilation that shot them back up the UK charts. They set out on a co-headlining tour with Hall & Oates, halted that summer when Roland’s wife of nearly four decades, Caroline, passed away, a story he shares in his own words in our interview below. The title track—written by Roland and guitarist, writer and producer Charlton Pettus and co-produced by the band, Sacha Skarbek, and Florian Reutter—is about the gut-wrenching experience of love and tragic loss: Life is cruel/Life is tough….Will you ever know when it’s the tipping point…

When I spoke with Curt Smith last October for his  5 Albums I Can’t Live Without feature, we remarked on how 2022 marks the 40th anniversary of “Mad World.”

“It was a video made from next to nothing with all family and friends in the mix,” Curt recalls. “In the birthday party there’s a woman blowing a streamer-thing with the birthday cake, that’s my mom. It was before we had any money, so we literally just found a house to record it in and invited friends and family to be all the extras at the birthday party. I think the house was on the grounds of Knebworth, if I remember correctly, which we ended up playing in front of 100,000 people to in 1990.”

Since forming in 1981, Tears For Fears has sold over 30 million albums. The Tipping Point is their seventh studio album. “I do actually love this one more than any album we’ve made,” Curt said. “I still listen to it, because the norm for me would be I’m done and I don’t want to hear that again for a long time, because I’ve spent the last X amount of years listening to it, but I actually still listen to this one, which is incredibly reassuring…”

When looking back at his incredible career, Curt offered some heartfelt advice for young artists on creating a career of inspired and meaningful work: “If you can remain idealistic, it’s the perfect thing, I think that’s why we have huge gaps between records. I think we have to rediscover that kind of spark which the industry tends to kick out of you a bit. I think I love watching and listening to young artists that really haven’t had to experience that yet, which is great, or those that really don’t care and you could admire them for not caring.

“It’s been a long time in the works, and had some false starts and we did things, industry things,” Curt said. “We went back to doing things our way and made an album that I feel is representative of us and sounds like us, and doesn’t sound like us trying to be something else.”

“We wouldn’t want you guys to be anything else,” I told him.

Nor would I,” Curt said.



SPIN: What is the magic, do you think, between you and Curt?
Roland Orzabal: God, I could spend a day talking about what it is. I think, first of all, there’s a push-me-pull-you kind of thing. There’s a brake and accelerator. If I’m accelerating, Curt is the brake and if Curt is accelerating, I’m the break. We have that, we also have detail versus big picture and we swap in that regard because quite often, Curt has got the big picture, especially when it comes to the business side of things, but other times he gets a bit down and I give him the big picture and I become the cheerleader. We have that, a lot of balance and mutual support at all the occasions with us swapping roles like mom and dad.

I think what it is, I can do a lot of things, I’m pretty– What’s the word? Spontaneous. I call it musical Tourette. Do you know what I mean? Put me in a situation with a bunch of songwriters and I’ll be the one that’s coming up with the tunes and the things very quickly, which is why I enjoyed that process. It’s in the exercising of taste that we start to separate ourselves from the pack, as I said. In the exercising of taste, now that’s where the discussion comes and that’s the refining part of what we do. Partly creativity, then partly the exercising of taste.

We’ve waited a really long time for The Tipping Point. When I spoke with Curt several months ago and he said that you guys just aren’t interested in just churning out albums. It’s not your thing.
No, there are a number of reasons for that. There’s the market, there’s the demand, and if the demand’s not there, then that makes it a little more difficult. We were out of contract with the record company for many, many years, and we flirted with some. We signed to Warner Brothers for a little while, we did some recording, then we got out of that contract. We actually bought back the recordings off them. Then we flirted with Universal, and then that fell through. There’s never been anyone banging on our door saying, “We have to have an album.”

It’s really a lot of us pontificating, experimenting. Something about the cycle we’re caught up in, cosmic cycle if you like, that we’re caught up in, Tears For Fears, made it feel very important that we finish the album when we did, you see what I’m saying?

When did you start the album then?
We started it about seven years ago.

Yes. It took a long time to get anywhere, we were so ushered into this modern way of making a record, which is not to trust the artist to write all the songs, but to trust…these young, hip songwriters, who that’s all they do for a living is churn out pop hits. It was almost like a throwback to the days of Tin Pan Alley, and our own trademark sound was regurgitated by these people and then shown back to us. It was a very interesting exercise.

We came up with some good songs, but we were left with a whole batch of stuff that was lacking any narrative, lacking any real heart and soul. The biggest crime of all, I think, was us not really plumbing the depths of our souls, and plumbing the depths of our suffering, not writing about the human condition which was our strength in the beginning. I think that’s what separated us from the pack. That took a long time, a long, long time.

What was the first song you guys wrote all those years ago?
The first song on the album, the oldest song on the album, shall we say, is “End of Night”. It ranges in age right up to the newest songs, “Rivers of Mercy”, “Master Plan”, “No Small Thing” in 2020.

No Small Thing” really introduces us to this whole Tipping Pointworld, and yet, there’s no doubt about it, it’s a folk song. It’s a folk/country song, I would say. How did the song come about?
It’s a very important song inasmuch as Curt and I had been working for many years with these other songwriters. It was an idea that the management had to drag us, kicking and screaming into the modern music world. I think we did okay because we know how to write pop songs, but as I said to you earlier, we were missing the heart and soul. Also, we were at loggerheads because the whole process of working in a team of songwriters has left Curt behind a little bit, because he tends to keep his opinions to himself until he’s asked, in that situation.

Secretly and privately he was hating the whole thing, and it took a while for him to actually admit it, but he did. It was my task, in a sense, to reconnect with him. Do you know what I mean?

We’ve been on two tough tours in 2019, and as usual, tend to fall out and go our separate ways after the tour that’s quite stressful, and like many stresses in life, you tend to blame your partner. I just said, “Look–” while we were discussing what we felt good about, and we were happy to proceed with regarding the songs, I said, “Let’s get together and see what happens.” I felt pretty confident about it because, at that point in time, I knew that it was absolutely vital that we become one mind and there’s only one way of doing that and that’s being alone.

The first day I went round to Curt’s house was with acoustic guitar and we sat there, and this is the first time we’ve done that probably since the early ’80s, and he started strumming this little figure. Then it started from there. We mucked about with that for a while and took it back to England and then the “freedom is no small thing” came and it was pretty obvious. Obviously, the narrator in this song, he’s really talking about freedom of expression, which is what we hadn’t really allowed ourselves to enjoy. We hadn’t indulged ourselves in any way.

This was at the point where our previous manager, who had coerced us into writing with all these people, he was now suddenly out of the picture. There was only me and Curt left. It was only the two of us, so no interference. We put our heads together and then the magic happened. I think it was that track where Curt’s enthusiasm was suddenly back to 100% because we were getting somewhere, he felt we were making more of a statement. We were just becoming artistic again and not just commercial. Do you see what I’m saying? “Freedom is no small thing.” Of course, the idea came just before lockdown number one in Britain, and then all of a sudden, freedoms are restricted heavily in so many ways. It interfaces beautifully with that social problem.

How important are “hit songs” at this stage of your career?
It’s lovely to have hit songs, but there’s certain things that are going to determine that. If you’re young and you are totally in tune with the trend, it’s going to be easier for you to have hits. As you get older– I remember distinctly after we ruled the world so to speak in the mid-’80s, I remember not listening to the radio anymore. It didn’t intrigue me. It’s almost like I had climbed that mountain. What I then did was I went back through the history of rock and pop music and competed with the past, which that ended up with “The Seeds of Love”, but once I’d done that, from then on it was about expression, personal expression.

Hits per searen’t important, but when you’ve sweated blood over something, it’s not so much the hit that you’re looking for, it’s the acknowledgment. Not just from fans, but acknowledgment from musicians. This is what I would like from this album, I would– other musicians to be inspired by it to even interpolate it. Ultimately, it’s about intellectual property, which then has a life of its own. Where I don’t particularly worry about things and worry about success and such, but I love watching your little babies grow up, have a life of their own, and come back to haunt you, come back in a different form. I absolutely am always amazed by all that stuff.

Why The Tipping Point? What does that term mean to you guys?
For me, it was a personal song. As you probably read, for a long period of making the album, my wife, my late wife now, had descended into mental illness and alcoholism, to put it simply. She was a previous beautiful, sexy, fiery woman. She hit menopause and the wheels came off. She became anxious. She went from being a gourmet cook to someone who didn’t eat, wouldn’t eat, but she never stopped drinking. She was treated by psychiatrists for depression, which I personally think made it worse and she never stopped drinking through that.

I saw her become a ghost of a former self and so on and so forth, but you never really believe, you never truly believe they’re going to die. You just think it’s going to carry on like this forever. The question is, will you ever know when it’s the tipping point, will you ever know when that person is on the threshold of death? Would you ever know when they actually leave this planet? Because it’s all very well, but I would say Caroline was dead before she physically died…but she’s still alive in many ways through memory. Very much. That’s the gray area of letting someone go…. Gray area of…when do you start mourning? Can you start mourning? Do you actually let them go before they are gone? Maybe that would’ve been a healthier and easier thing to do as Curt says in the song “Stay”, “Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.” That’s what the tipping point for me is. It’s that sudden drop, it’s where things can no longer stay in the form they’re in because it’s too uncomfortable because the dynamics and the energy is going mad, the dynamics and the energy is going crazy so then something has to change. A transformation has to occur.

Obviously, the tipping point was a book. It’s a commonly used expression nowadays. For me, it was a personal thing, which again, just seemed to coincide with– I became a zeitgeistian, if you know what I mean? Because of the COVID pandemic where death is on our screens, certainly was in England in the early days, every day. It became horribly relevant.


Why was it important to you to write about humanity?
If you use the word calling, what does that really mean? Because it sounds like it’s some kind of who are you doing it for? We do a lot of things that are our calling if you know what I’m saying.

Because Tears for Fears started with an album called The Hurting.Look at those words. It’s not “Have a nice day,” it’s “The hurting” with the song “Mad World”. You’re already talking about finding life difficult. You were talking about vulnerability. You were talking about anxiety, isolation. We were lucky that culturally that stuff was allowed to go on and we were also very fortunate to wrap those feelings and lyrics up in cutting-edge electronic arrangements. Therefore, you’re hitting people on two levels.

You’re hitting them on a level on the body where they don’t really care what the lyric is, and then you’re hitting them spiritually as well to where they actually do know what you’re talking about. Why is it important? I don’t know why. It’s just that when I do that, my life makes more sense and so in a sense, yes, it’s my calling, definitely. That’s my strength, to take suffering, harmonize it, make sense of it, and re-package it into an acceptable form, which is music, which allows people to connect peacefully. Connect to the original feeling so that they can allow that to rattle around their cage. To swim around their body and realize they’re not alone.