Tears for Fears. It's a sour-pussed, gloomy synthesizer band. No, it's a fresh-faced, teenybopper-oriented synthesizer band. No, it's gloom. No, it's glam. Gloom. . . . Glam. . . .
Wait a minute. There's no need to argue--Tears for Fears is two, two, two bands in one !
The young duo's dimples 'n' doom combination took the Hollywood Palladium by storm for a sold-out three-night stand over the weekend, opening Friday to a predictably frenzied response in a city that was a stronghold even before the group assumed the top-selling slot in the rest of the nation.
For the group's local debut, which could just as easily have sold out the much larger Forum, a predominantly teen-age and female crowd responded with predictable glee to even the slightest shy smile or coy comment. (Singer-guitarist Roland Orzabal's aside of "We're from England, by the way" brought some of the evening's biggest cheers--so much for the "American music" craze on this Independence Day weekend.)
The singles are catchy and well-crafted, and those faces are the stuff that Tiger Beat is made of. Given the outfit's youthful constituency, the assumption could easily be made that Tears for Fears is succeeding in spite of its acutely melancholic themes, and not at all because of them.
But you shouldn't bet that the not-so-subtle subtext of despair is going over the fans' heads: Listen to all those kids chanting "Shout, shout, let it all out / These are the things I can do without"--or watch them pay rapt attention during a draggy, mawkish anthem of hopelessness called "I Believe"--and be assured that these guys have tapped into some sort of vein.
"Songs From the Big Chair," Tears' second effort and breakthrough album, is probably the most depressed collection of tunes to hit the Top 10 since John Lennon's "Plastic Ono Band." Like Lennon, core personnel Orzabal and Curt Smith come from broken homes and are prone to writing about their unhappy childhoods. Like Lennon again, Orzabal and Smith are fervent adherents of Arthur Janov's primal scream therapy, which endorses catharsis as a healer of deep-rooted trauma.
But there's nothing very primal about Tears' lush modern pop. Lennon's direct, raw emotionalism is eschewed for a lot of vague imagery, which comes together mainly to cement the notion that the singer has been treated shoddily his whole life and that this is the way of the world. That might not be so bad if Orzabal and Smith didn't seem so resigned to being victims--no, make that open targets. Tears' exaggerated sensitivity is enough to make a liberal run out and catch "Rambo" just to regain some sort of equilibrium.
To their credit, Orzabal and Smith didn't pout on stage. They and their sidemen smiled, shimmied about with ease, and even told a couple of jokes. With a few disarmingly uptempo songs like the lilting shuffle "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" interspersed, if you didn't pay close attention, you could forget that what was going on content-wise was basically an extended pity party.
And there are times when the instrumental textures are rich enough that the high-minded ennui of the lyrics can almost be overlooked. The group's more progressive tendencies at their best successfully evoke Tears' idol, Peter Gabriel. And Orzabal is a lead guitarist of enough taste and skill--especially for the leader of a "synthesizer band"--that he should trust his instincts and let go more often and for longer.
In fact, by and large the overall sound is so well-arranged, especially for a pair of relative novices, that it will be hard to resist checking them out in the future--especially five years or so down the line, when with luck they will have primal-screamed this self-absorbed stuff out of their systems.
The same bill plays Tuesday at San Diego State's Open Air Theatre and Wednesday at the Pacific Amphitheatre.