Thursday, December 20, 2012

"The Seeds Of Love," by Tears For Fears

A few years ago I read an interview with a “hot” young musician, who subsequently faded away (forgive my feeble memory; I don’t remember his name; it’s on the tip of my tongue…), who was backhandedly complimenting Tears for Fears during their commercial heyday, citing their classic pop hits, like “Everybody Wants To Rule The World,” “Shout,” and “Sowing The Seeds Of Love,” as “wonderful, but dated, forever stuck in 1980’s synthesizers.” I have to disagree. I liken describing Tears for Fears’ music as “stuck in the 1980’s,” to saying David Bowie’s music is stuck in the 1970’s. Is it a product of its cultural and musical timeframe? Certainly, but isn’t that precisely from where it derives its artistic power and musical strength? Isn’t that the job of pop music, to reflect the mores and zeitgeist of the moment in 3-minute verse-chorus-verse format?

But hype is fascinating like that. Don’t believe me? Watch your facebook newsfeed evolve after a national event; it serpentines, with facebook friends jumping on the bandwagon of the thought-o-the-moment with cattle stampede-like trajectories of opinion. And so it goes with the music industry that hypes “the next big thing,” only to turn 180 degrees months, weeks, days later when it appears the trend is going in a different direction. Popular music is riddled with artists who should have been the “second coming,” only to fall short when trends shift. To wit, in the 1970’s, insiders speculated that The Knack was, secretly, the re-formed Beatles (sigh…if only), in the 1980’s, Terence Trent D’Arby was supposed to be the second coming of James Brown (sadly, not), and in the 1990’s, Sophie B. Hawkins was supposed to alter the direction of popular music (that said, I still enjoy her eccentric, sadly underappreciated music). And after their 15 minutes of fame were spent, these artists faded into their respective obscurities.

Such was the case with Tears for Fears much touted third release, The Seeds Of Love. Buoyed by the accumulated success of their previous two albums, the critically acclaimed, but slow-burning (in the U.S.) debut, The Hurting, and the world-wide, multi-platinum smash of Songs From The Big Chair, Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith were poised for musical world domination with their highly and long-anticipated follow-up, The Seeds Of Love. Indeed, arriving four years after its predecessor, The Seeds Of Love was to be the next big thing. How could it not be that? The first single, “Sowing The Seeds Of Love,” with it’s Beatles-influenced backdrop and inventive, accompanying video, rocketed to #2 on the Billboard chart and worked the awaiting, record-buying public into a frenzied froth (as a good lead-off single should). So much so, that in its November 1989 album review, the trend-conscious Rolling Stone magazine gave the album an almost perfect review: four out of five stars, reviewer Michael Azerrad stated, “…it's exciting that such thought-provoking music will undoubtedly be so widely heard. If with the title track Tears for Fears beg comparison to the Beatles, it's in the unspoken assertion that popular music can also be outstanding music. That's something this remarkable record proves over and over again.” 

Well said, Mr. Azerrad, well said. But just one year later in its year-end issue, the same publication trashed the album, calling the songs meandering and “overlong.” So which is it, Rolling Stone? What changed about the album in 10 months? Was it good or not? Apparently not, or maybe something else was afoot. After all, the subsequent singles from the album faired far less than the leadoff single (hard to imagine a feminist anthem competing strongly against the featherweight pop of Wilson Phillips, Michael Bolton, and Milli Vanilli). MTV, pop radio, and the record-buying public couldn’t be wrong about this one…right?

Whichever way you look at it, I’m inclined to agree with Azerrad’s original opine: The Seeds Of Love is a remarkable piece of work, likely the duo’s best effort, and worthy of another listen (or two or three…). Featuring only eight songs, side one became the “singles” side, featuring three of the most well-known singles from the album, the grandiose, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink #2 smash, “Sowing The Seeds Of Love,” the sensitive-man-as-feminist duet with (the stunning) Oletta Adams, “Woman In Chains,” and the playful, sunshine pop confection, “Advice For The Young At Heart,” with the borrowed John Lennon line, “Love is a promise, love is a souvenir; once given, never forgotten, never let it disappear…” The final song on the album, “Famous Last Words,” while one of my favorite tracks, was released as the album’s last single but disappeared without a trace as the album, by that time, had been widely forgotten by all parties concerned.

While references to The Beatles are undeniable (even down to the Sgt Pepper’s-like collage of an album cover), I liken The Seeds Of Love less to any, one Beatles album than I would compare it to Pink Floyd’s perennial classic, Dark Side of The Moon, with its swirling jazz riffs, melancholy atmospherics, sweeping soundscapes, and soulful, tortured vocals by Oletta Adams, who went on to a highly successful career as a soul singer after being launched by this album. Indeed, the tracks on Seeds Of Love, like the tracks on Dark Side Of The Moon, are longer than the standard pop song, clocking-in at an average of over 6 minutes, but Orzabal seemed to be going more for Alan Parsons style epics than catchy 3 minute pop petit fours. Viewing his entire catalogue, I’ve come to believe that Roland Orzabal can’t not write a song without a tangible melody, and Seeds Of Love is no exception. That said, the album is scarce on pop hooks, per se, but the album seems crafted to build a significantly more satisfying musical experience over time, with repeated listens, much like Dark Side Of The Moon’s epic journey, except instead of a musical case study in madness, Seeds Of Love examines a road map of the human heart. We seem to still need that...

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