Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels
The opening cut from Tear for Fears’ first album of all-new material in seventeen years, The Tipping Point, has already secured a place among the best songs released in 2022. The appropriately-titled “No Small Thing” is absolutely incredible, starting as ’70s folk-rock a la Cat Stevens before an echo-drum beat kicks in and then some Jeff Lynne-type effects which lead into an amazing second section. All told, the song is quite an amount of brilliance squeezed into just under five minutes. This one track already sets the bar pretty high, and consequently, most of the rest of the album doesn’t measure up to “No Small Thing.” But The Tipping Point – mostly comprised of synth tunes with dance beats – is hardly without its strong points.
Hailing from Bath, England, Tears for Fears – Roland Ozabal and Curt Smith – released their debut album in 1983, which went to number one and spawned three Top Five singles in the UK. Between the title (The Hurting) and cover artwork (a photo of a child seemingly in emotional pain), the group stood out during the era of groups like Duran Duran and Wham! This made it all the more ironic that American audiences at first tended to think of Tears for Fears as part of that ilk with their second album, Songs from the Big Chair. Once past that inaccurate comparison, however, Big Chair produced two number one singles and sold five million copies in the US. Tears for Fears then took an extended leave before returning with the decidedly Beatles-Esque The Seeds of Love in 1989. Smith left the duo and Ozabal continued under the group’s name for several releases (which included the underrated 1993 single “Break It Down Again”) before Smith returned for the optimistically-titled Everybody Loves a Happy Ending in 2005.
This brings us to where we are now. The Tipping Point is not – nor is meant to be – any sort of major departure for the duo, as reminders of some of their older work appear throughout the record. The verse on “Long, Long, Long Time” recalls the Beatles influence on “Sewing the Seeds of Love”, with the new song’s title even expanding upon that of a Fab Four tune (“Long, Long, Long” from The White Album), while “Break the Man” clearly took some tips from “Advice For the Young at Heart” off of that same TFF LP. The lyrics and vocal tone of “My Demons” sound more like their earliest work. The group’s name (and some of their older lyrics) were originally inspired by a form of therapy developed by psychologist Arthur Janov, and this dynamic (along with still more Beatles influence) can be found in the title alone of the somber piano ballad “Please Be Happy.” The more versatile style of the opening cut returns towards the end with the uptempo, catchy “End of Night.”
Apart from a bit of success scattered throughout the last four decades, Tears for Fears’ most notable accomplishments in the US were confined to a relatively short period in the mid-’80s, which might have raised concerns that the duo was now thought of as relics of that era like new Coke and Max Headroom. But despite being that far removed from their heyday and even eighteen years from their last full-length release, The Tipping Point is about to make a surprising entry onto the Billboard album chart at number one. But is it deserving of that? Let’s say, mostly. The best parts of the album are fantastic, but a lot of the rest of it is solid but unremarkable.