In the beginning — or, rather, at the beginning — of the eighties, Tears For Fears were a nice little radio-friendly pop outfit. With composers Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith as frontmen, singles such as “Mad World”, “Shout” and “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” had provided them with international hits. Their first two albums, The Hurting (1983) and Songs From The Big Chair (1985) had been received with similar success. All well and good: catchy enough tunes with some interesting lyrical leanings, but nothing of real substance.
Then, just making the end of the decade, came The Seeds Of Love…
The four-year hiatus was the result of a number of factors. The proposed follow-up to Big Chair had been recorded and mixed, but Smith and Orzabal (the name’s Basque, in case you were wondering) were unhappy with Chris Hughes’ production and its overall sound, and stalled the issue.
The group was also experiencing internal tensions, ultimately resulting in the departure of drummer Manny Elias. Orignal keyboards player Ian Stanley was supplemented by Nicky Hopkins, who also established himself as Orzabal’s new writing partner, resulting in a new flurry of composition. It proved to be Stanley’s last collaboration with the band, and — very probably — the beginning of the bitterness between the founders, which would lead to TFF’s rupture within a couple of years. (Curt Smith is limited to just one vocal lead and one co-write credit on the whole of the album).
Finally, their ‘discovery’ of a struggling gospel/soul singer called Oleta Adams in a hotel bar during their US tour convinced Orzabal and Smith that she simply had to be included on their next release. Although she only appears on three of the album’s tracks, Adams’ voice (and piano) is an indelible part of it. After touring with the band, her big label debut was co-produced by Orzabal.
But we’re starting to get ahead of ourselves. Orzabal and Smith decided to share the production with former engineer, Dave Bascombe. The whole thing was re-recorded: extensive jam-sessions with a plethora of session players of the highest calibre being meticulously spliced and laminated (incorporating some of the original project’s material and adding extensive orchestral passages), resulting in a lush enormity of sound — and an alleged bill of a cool million pounds sterling.
I should point out from the outset that ‘big production numbers’ are not normally my bag. Yet, somehow, the patent leather polish of The Seeds Of Love doesn’t come across as intrusive, but rather stands it out as something truly extraordinary. If sound can be described as ‘three-dimensional’, then this is it. “Superbascombevision”, they call it on the cover. Speaking of which, a slap on the wrist for their not extending the budget to include at least a little info on the players (names, for example…). Seem to recall that the vinyl edition, which a mate had, was rather more helpful. My Internet research has turned up some details, but not many. Comments are welcomed with any extra elucidation.
Having first been flipped by the psychedelic revival taster single, “Sowing The Seeds Of Love”, I got hooked by the rest of the LP c/o the CD jukebox in my favoured watering hole of the period. After getting over the initial disbelief at who was responsible for it, it was me who started feeding my 50 pence pieces into the slot to hear what else it had to offer.
Plenty! It soon became evident that the purchase of the disc (and a few six-packs) was going to be a far sounder investment. Twenty years on, it continues to throw up surprises: twists and touches I’d never twigged before. Reviewing it’s gonna be fun:
It’s under my skin but out of my hands,
I’ll tear it apart but I won’t understand…
Not fully, anyway: but I hope my musings will strike a chord with those already familiar with the album, and pique the curiosity of the uninitiated:
At least the seeds of love will be sown…
Tears For Fears — The Seeds Of Love: Track-by-track review
1. “Woman In Chains”
Right from the opening, the epic scale of the album’s soundscape is impossible to ignore. Guest Phil Collins serves up some marvelously atmospheric shuffling percussion to accompany the bass notes, bringing in some pinging guitar harmonics, which cede to the gently undulating synth riff.
Orzabal’s vocal begins the song, more melodic and far more emotive than anything he’d previously uttered:
You’d better love loving and you’d better behave
Woman in chains, woman in chains
Oleta Adams sweeps in with the female perspective:
Calls her man the great white hope
Says she’s fine, she’ll always cope
Woman in chains, woman in chains
They continue to cat and mouse the vocal between them — Brother Sun and Sister Moon — alternating lead and backing parts, as the music metamorphosises behind them. The guitar arpeggio gradually unravels, the keyboard textures gently build, and Phil fills to perfection, never succumbing to the overblown excesses which so often characterized his solo work.
The lyric can be –- and was intended to be -– interpreted in a number of ways. There’s the obvious call for an end to the macho domination with its ‘shut up and be sexy’ girl stereotyping which fuels a stifling relationship (as played up in the promo-vid for its release as a single). Writer Roland Orzabal has also stated that he’d been reading about matriarchal and matricentric societies at the time, and was intrigued by the freedom which they seemed to afford to both sexes. And, on a more personal level, it’s about the recognition and liberation of the feminine side of their personality, which so many “men of stone” are afraid to acknowledge or express.
Crashing drums (well, he had to do it just once, didn’t he?), blistering power chords and feedback bridge into the extended playout, a soul-lifting interplay of the two voices, Adams’ in particular soaring to the heavens:
So free her…
Be she the woman chained by, or chained within the man, “free her!” You’re going to feel better for it, “you know what I mean”.
2. “Badman’s Song”
Furiously skittering drums and cymbals are chased by some hepcat jazz piano by way of an intro.
A “one-two-three-four” count-in worthy of The Boss calls up a storming guitar vs keyboard barrage to bring in the vocal: once again, an Orzabal/Adams duet. And, as on “Woman in Chains”, Roland’s voice is taken to new heights –- and depths — by the effortless force of Oleta’s in their soul-style interplay. It’s every bit as good as the preceding track (though nowhere near as commercially viable!)
The “Bad Man” of the title is an ex-convict, reflecting on his pastlife, determined to straighten it out, and expressing an almost evangelistic desire to show his former cellmates the error of their ways too (though fully aware of the hostility with which his proposals will probably be greeted):
I will shine a blinding light
Through those hearts as black as night:
Sticks and stones may break my bones,
But at least the seeds of love will be sown!
He’s similarly conscious that his dark history will never be forgotten or forgiven by certain self-righteous sectors of society, “the saints that are quick to judge me”.
The brooding soulfulness mounts up meticulously, moving through rock, blues and gospel territory before letting in a beautifully understated 30 second guitar solo; which gives way, in turn, to a full minute of full-on jazz: bass and drums battling it out with Oleta’s piano. Then, just as suddenly, we’re dropped back into the moody groove of the lyric.
Lord help me now and bless my soul!
3. “Sowing The Seeds Of Love”
The scraping sounds which open the track are surely those of Sergeant Pepper’s sarcophagus lid being dragged back…
This monumental piece of retropopsedelica was the first single to be released from the album: preceding it by a month, in an attempt to make August ’89 the new summer of love (or at least to sow the seeds…). Comparisons with The Beatles are inevitable and were clearly intentional, both in the music and the messages. “Love Power” was –- and still is — “all you need.” [“Anything is possible!”]
Strawberry phased drums bring in the Walrusly lilting rhythm of the verse:
High time we made a stand and shook up the views of the common man!
Labelling the song as ‘retro’ isn’t entirely fair; as, amidst all the imagery, the lyric pointed very squarely at contemporary issues such as feminism, world famine and the growing green consciousness. Perhaps it’s better to consider it as an updated reiteration of the hippie ideals still so clearly lacking in the avaricious eighties: “Kick out the style, bring back the jams!” Arch mother-fucker Thatcher came in for a personal challenge also:
Politician granny with your high ideals,
Have you no idea how the majority feels?
The pastiche merging of the Beatlesque elements is done with such obvious taste and affection that even a die-hard Fabsfan like myself can only smile. A veritable Magical Mystery Tour. As catchy as hell, drawing from “the crannies and the nooks” of their catalogue: the cheesy handclaps and Hammond, those bluesy cellos, eastern drones and the trumpets tootling in direct from “Penny Lane” all combine to exquisitely headswimming effect –and don’t miss that pure George guitar break just before the four minute mark: it’s almost “All Too Much”! And while the duo aren’t exactly soundalikes, they get closer to the spirit of Beatle vocals than anyone since The Rutles.
The award-winning promo video, animating the myriad symbols of the album sleeve (and the song, and the album…), complements it impeccably, and is still well worth a watch:
Spark up a joss stick –- and anything else you fancy — sit back on your beanbag, and enjoy!!! “As the headline says, you’re free to choose…”
4. “Advice For The Young At Heart”
Advice for the young at heart:
Soon we will be older
When we gonna make it work?
Curt Smith’s sole lead vocal on the album was the third (and least successful) single to be lifted from it. Written by Orzabal and newboy Nicky Hopkins, its questioning tone seems to cast it as a piece of self-advice. The LP as a whole certainly demonstrates that the band had grown up: and, with both of its leaders (friends since childhood) heading towards the thirty mark, ‘growing older’ was an unignorable inevitability.
There’s another bit of Beatle borrowing — or loaning from Lennon, at least — with the lines:
Love is a promise, love is a souvenir:
Once given, never forgotten,
Never let it disappear
Musically, I find it somewhat slighter than the other tracks on the record. Possibly its release in single form was little more than an attempt to appease Smith: “This could be our last chance”.
It’s a tight enough piece of work, nonetheless, with some nice harmonies to accompany Curt’s falsetto sections, and a fine interplay of piano, synths and guitars -– not to mention some very tasty percussion — though overall it falls just a little short of the rollercoaster ride which is the rest of the album.
5. “Standing On The Corner Of The Third World”
Opening with some appropriately eastern woodwind sounds and percussion, “Standing On The Corner Of The Third World” is an absolutely enormous track, by turn moody and impassioned, with every element -– musical, vocal and lyrical — contributing impeccably to its force.
The instrumentation is quite reminiscent of some of Peter Gabriel’s ‘artier’ work, and not only for the percussive contributions of his erstwhile collaborator, Manu Katcheé. And Mr Real World would also, I’m sure, give his wholehearted seal of approval to the sentiments of the lyric (replete with some wonderfully poetic touches). What, indeed, is the point of dangling the materialistic trappings of western affluence as carrots to the starving?
Hungry men will close their minds
Ideas are not their food
Notions fall on stony ground
Where passions are subdued
Pino Palladino’s whopping rolling bass also warrants special mention, though it’s the sum of the manifold elements which add up to so much more than any individual part. Strings and keys and brass and wind all ebb and flow to create a five-course aural banquet, culminating in an awesome barrage of guitars and harmonicas. Best appreciated with your headphones on.
Hold me I’m crying!
Hold me I’m dying!
6. “Swords And Knives”
From the ethereal voice/piano opening, this gem of a track steadily grows alongside the lyric, piling on the instrumental textures, twisting and turning over its six minute course.
A waking world of innocence
So grave those first born cries
When life begins with needles and pins
It ends with swords and knives…
Again, there’s an introspective Gabrielity to it. “Fooled by now, we mystify the past”: what a great line! Its sonic sophistication also recalls the work of other perfectionists, such as Level 42 or Weather Report: a million miles from TFF’s poppy roots. The musical evolution is masterful, each contributing component deftly taking its turn, crashing crescendos alternating with melting melody; all held together by Kaché’s ever-innovative percussion and Orzabal’s rich, warm vocal.
Returning to the hauntingly tinkling piano of the intro, now backed with down-played strings, subtle synth washes and softly squealing guitars, the opening observations are reiterated, with an added plea for redemption:
“When life begins with needles and pins
It ends with swords and knives:
God save those born to die…”
7. “Year Of The Knife”
Flowing in directly from “Swords And Knives”, some tantalizing percussion blends with crowd noise and an oscillating synthesiser: the sticks are clicked, and in it kicks. The most out-and-out rocker on the album, with its duelling guitars and relentless rhythm section, “Year Of The Knife” is yet another tour de force: one of my personal favourites on a disc chock full of ’em.
Recounting the fall of a “Jeckyll and Hyde”, a philosophical assassin, the blistering urgency of the playing — together with Orzabal’s stunningly full-on vocal delivery — make it patently evident that it’s:
Too late for the young gun
To lead a simple life…
Little more to be said or done:
This is the year of the knife!
As it reaches the mid-section, just when you’re starting to think about air-guitarring along, the whole thing drops out to a Floydish synth and bass wash, joined by a suite of Beatley cellos.
But don’t fret for the fretboards: back they come, faster and more furious than ever, verging on the vicious at times. The backing choir, led by Oleta, call up a storm (well, a thunderclap, at least): “too late, much too late” to even think about turning back.
If you’re not left breathless by the finish, you can’t have been breathing to begin with!
8. “Famous Last Words”
Like “Swords And Knives”, the final track commences with a gently lilting piano, though this time it is soon joined accompanied by a softly syncopated strings section and Jon Hassell’s soulful trumpet.
If you knew the world was going to end tomorrow, the planet simply unable to take any more of our abuse, what would you do?
The lovers in the song decide to take a bath together, stretch out in front of the fire, and sing along to their favourite records “by candlelight”, as they await the inevitable:
Hand in hand we’ll do and die
Listening to the band that made us cry
As the King and Queen of their final hours of existence, with their surging emotions evoked by the almost overwhelming swell of the music and the vocal, they contemplate a range of opposing symbols, many of which have come and gone during the rest of the album: Sun/Moon, Wind/Rain, Day/Night, Heart/Brain. Sentimental, nostalgic — what can you expect, given the context “of this real-life situation” — bittersweet, though never cloying. And the whistful conclusion is drawn: “nothing to lose, nothing to gain”, at least when it’s finally all over,
We will carry war no more…
The Seeds Of Love by Tears For Fears
“Woman In Chains”
“Sowing The Seeds Of Love”
“Advice For The Young At Heart”
“Standing On The Corner Of The Third World”
“Swords And Knives”
“Year Of The Knife”
“Famous Last Words”