Mostly unknown outside of the hippest circles just a few months ago, Tears for Fears is suddenly the hottest band in pop music.
The second Tears album, “Songs From the Big Chair,” will be No. 1 on next week’s Billboard magazine pop chart. The first single, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” just dropped out of the No. 1 spot. “Shout,” the new Tears single, is already in the Top 20 and has No. 1 potential.
The essence of Tears, a pop/rock band with a synthesizer sound, is young Englishmen Curt Smith (bass, vocals) and Roland Orzabal (guitar, vocals), who, with their backup musicians, will be making the rounds of Southern California in the next week as part of their first American tour.
They play three sold-out concerts this weekend at the Hollywood Palladium and also perform tonight at the Santa Barbara County Bowl, Tuesday at San Diego State’s Open Air Theatre and Wednesday at the Pacific Amphitheatre.
Smith is the Tears’ spokesman, basically by default. “I find it a bit easier talking to people,” he explained. “Roland is more introverted. He’s like me, but a little moodier.”
Both are short, dark, brooding types--that traditionally appeal to female pop fans. They like to downplay the shrieking teen-age girl segment of their audience, fearing that someone might confuse them with the likes of Wham or Duran Duran.
“There’s a lot of older people at our shows too,” Smith insisted. “We appeal to people who are serious about music, not just to young girls.”
Smith and Orzabal insist that those awe-struck females observe a shriek-but-don’t-touch policy. Both are happily married.
To some degree, Smith and Orzabal’s popularity is rooted in their traumatic adolescence, which has been extensively publicized in the rock media. Many young music fans can easily identify with the traumas of the Tears duo, both products of broken homes.
Smith, 24, and Orzabal, 23, grew up in Bath, England, riddled with neuroses. His father, Orzabal has charged, was an ogre who made his life miserable. Smith was a juvenile delinquent who had a brief criminal career.
Friends since early teens, they vented some of their frustrations playing music. They started out addicted to heavy metal. Later they went to the opposite extreme--folk music--before settling into techo-pop. At 17, Orzabal discovered psychologist Arthur Janov’s primal scream therapy in reading his book, “Primal Scream,” which focuses on buried feelings and childhood origins of neuroses. He turned Smith onto Janov, who has influenced their musical career.
Officially formed in 1981, the band took its name from a chapter about children’s nightmares in Janov’s “Prisoner of Pain.” Orzabal, the duo’s principal writer, was so impressed by Janov’s theories that they became the inspiration for the first Tears for Fears album, “The Hurting,” released two years ago. Though not a hit in America, the LP sold more than a million worldwide. (This wasn’t the first primal scream album. John Lennon’s 1970 “Plastic Ono Band” was based on Janov’s ideas.)
Songs from “The Hurting,” like “Watch Me Bleed,” “Suffer the Children” and “Start of the Breakdown,” are mostly gloomy and tortured. Kids who have suffered through similar hurts identify with these tunes of trauma, but many critics, on a different wavelength, regard the material as ponderous, pretentious claptrap.
Smith only half-heartedly defended “The Hurting.”
“It’s hard to listen to now--it seems like what was on our minds so long ago. We made it when we were 20, and it had a lot to do with our emotions between 10 and 15. Recording it wasn’t fun--it was hard to listen to just after we did it. It was hard dealing with those feelings. Maybe we were taking ourselves a bit too seriously then.”
Talking about “The Hurting” and primal scream therapy obviously irritated Smith. “The press has made too much about this,” he griped. “It’s been written about so often that people should be bored with it. I know I am.”
Beginning work on the follow-up album, Smith and Orzabal were determined not to record “The Hurting II.”
“We started an album at the end of 1983 but we didn’t like it,” Smith said. “It was too much like the first one, and we were determined to do something different.”
Their record company, PolyGram, made things even tougher, Smith charged: “There was record-company pressure after the first album. It was successful worldwide and they wanted us to do another album, no matter what the quality, just as long as we did it quickly. But we weren’t willing.”
Experimentation and relaxation, Smith pointed out, turned out to be the answers: “We took a break from serious recording--a couple of months to experiment and play around with music, try things we had never tried before.”
The result was the album, “Songs From the Big Chair,” which took a year to record. They might have called it “Up From Depression.” The material is largely carefree, slick, catchy rock ‘n’ roll that’s fairly uncluttered by weighty, morbid ideas. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” is one of the year’s best singles. Its primary asset is a danceable instrumental track, enhanced by a dazzling guitar break.
“The material on the album is basically straight pop,” Smith said, “the kind of stuff played on the radio all the time.
Still, Janov is lurking around “Big Chair.” For instance, the current Tears’ hit single, “Shout,” is a disguised primal scream tune. For Smith and Orzabal, purging their music of Janov won’t be easy.