I can’t believe it’s been 34 years since Tears For Fears released their debut album The Hurting on March 7, 1983. I was eleven years old. That seems like a really long time ago. Frankly, the album doesn’t seem that old. For that matter, most days, neither do I.
I was discussing this band with a friend the other night. He insisted he only knew one song by them. I told him he knew three. Once I provided a few audio queues, it turns out I was right – he did know three Tears For Fears songs – but none of them are from this album.
In the United States, at least, the gateway to Tears For Fears was the MTV video for “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” from their 1985 breakthrough Songs From The Big Chair. Then came the monstrous single “Shout” and lesser hits like “Head Over Heels” and “Mothers Talk.” For the most part, people only remember the first single. Sometimes, maybe, the second.
I was gripped by the themes in their music, exploring righteousness, temptation, redemption. The music itself was great, too, a mix of preprogrammed synths, drum-machines, and analog guitars and drums, all structured around Roland Orzabel‘s powerful vocals. So I sought out their first album.
The Hurting is a somewhat more minimalist affair, but not a lesser work by any means. It is also considerably more downtrodden and morose – a few more albums like this and Tears For Fears could have given The Cure a run for their money. The early single “Suffer The Children” is a dark exploration of abandonment, buoyed only by the strength or Roland’s vocals and Curt Smith‘s chugging bassline.
At the time I first heard it – probably sometime around 1986, after I’d had time to fully digest the …Big Chair album, The Hurting didn’t strike me as a depressing album, though I’ve come to realize it contains some very heavy subject matter. I was fourteen or fifteen years old when I started listening to this record, and a lot of the themes contained therein delve deeper than most teens are accustomed to doing. For that matter, most 21 year olds aren’t dealing with these matters in any meaningful way, either, but that was Roland’s age at the time the album was released. It’s a remarkably mature record for someone so young.
Other singles from the album included “Change,” “Pale Shelter,” and “Mad World,” (all showcasing Curt Smith on lead vocals) but having been introduced to the album as a whole and without the benefit of stateside radio play, I was able to pick and choose my own favorites on the album and they happened to be the final two tracks on the Side 1 of the cassette: “Ideas As Opiates,” and “Memories Fade,” both of them Roland tracks.
This song is a masterpiece of minimalism. Apart from a gently plucked guitar and isolated piano chords, the only instrumentation throughout most of this song is a hypnotic programmed percussion track over which Roland explores themes of self-delusion. A saxophone solo on the bridge and coda add a little soul to this number, but it’s hardly needed.
Dealing with my own feelings of abandonment in my mid-teens, “Memories Fade” is one of those songs where, although I’ve outgrown the sentimental brokenhearted pap of the lyrics, it still strikes a melancholy chord of bittersweet nostalgia. Unlike some of the deeper themes on the record, it’s more or less a straightahead heartbreak song (though, again, the composition is unique, particularly for the time, and the vocals are exquisite), and that’s probably why it struck me: heartbreak was a much more relatable emotion when I was a teenager than some of the more cerebral concepts explored on the album.
I still love catching a song here and there on my iPod when it shuffles to the top of the deck, but overall, the album as a whole works better for me as a capsule at this point, bringing me back to a specific point in my adolescence. It is still interesting both musically and lyrically, but for everyday listening, I’d much sooner turn to just about any of the other Tears For Fears records. The Hurting is still an outstanding album front to back, but, for me, it elicits too much of the past for me to enjoy it fully on its merits alone.