Tears For Fears has long been one of my favorite bands and I was thrilled to finally get to see them live over the summer when they double-billed with Daryl Hall & John Oates. On this date, September 25, 1989, they released their third album The Seeds Of Love. It would be another fifteen years before the original duo of Roland Orzabel and Curt Smith would release another album together.
Its predecessor, Songs From The Big Chair, was one of the biggest records of 1985, so the follow-up release had a lot to live up to. Commercially, it didn’t come close. Musically, artistically… that’s another story.
By the end of the decade, Curt and Roland had grown tired of the inflexibility imposed upon them by working primarily with synthesizers and preprogrammed sequencers. They wanted to move in a more organic direction and on The Seeds Of Love, they do so admirably. Though the opening cut on the album, “Woman In Chains,” sounds, musically, like it could have been a deep cut from … The Big Chair, the song also introduces listeners to Oleta Adams for the first time. They brought in Adams as a backup singer to flesh out the band’s sound and infuse it with a bit of soul. Oleta Adams provided backing or co-lead vocals on three of the songs from the album before signing to her own contract with Tears For Fears’ Fontana label. Oleta Adams wasn’t the only “guest star” on the album, either, as other notable performers include Simon (Andy) Clark, Manu Katche, The Pretenders’ Robbie McIntosh, and Phil Collins.
The recording sessions themselves were more organic, too, often ending up as extended jam sessions with multiple takes on each song in varying styles, with the final cut being made up from several different recordings. As a result, some of the songs sound a bit segmented at times (though, having listened to this record for almost 30 years, it all flows seamlessly now). The result is a more expansive sound and larger-than-life arrangements, with only eight songs on the album, but none of them clocking in under four-and-a-half minutes. It also resulted in one of their all-time best non-album cut, the pure improvisation of “My Life In The Suicide Ranks” which backed the single release of “Woman In Chains.”
“Sowing The Seeds Of Love” was the lead-off single, a Beatles-tinged bit of psychedelia with strong lyrics by Roland and Curt’s signature crooning on the song’s uplifting chorus which consists solely of the song’s title repeated a few times. As a single, it was the perfect introduction to the band’s new sound – everything about it seems bigger and brighter than anything they’d produced previously. The video went on to win awards and the single went to #2 in the U.S., but it would be the only track from the album to have an impact on the charts, as the other singles (“Woman In Chains,” “Advice For The Young At Heart,” and “Famous Last Words“) failed to crack the Top 30.
The highlight of the album, for me, is the sinister “Badman’s Song,” an eight-and-a-half minute epic penned by Orzabel and keyboardist Nicky Holland. The song starts with a jazz drum kit accented by piano stabs and a softly rumbling bassline mixed low before exploding into a sonic bombast of electric guitar and Hammond organ. Then Roland and Oleta start trading lyrics, telling the story. I’d always assumed that this was somehow based on a true story (it is) full of intrigue and threats and danger, and I’d always wonder about the real story behind the song. In the end, I found out it was much more mundane than intrigue and threats and danger, but it doesn’t temper my love for the song, full of jazz-like arrangements, wailing guitar solos, and deep soul vocals. This song is also emblematic of their recording style during this album’s production – you can easily hear how the song is chopped up into multiple, seemingly unrelated segments, but it all flows together flawlessly to create one of my all-time favorite pop songs. And the eleven-and-a-half minute live version is even better
The Seeds Of Love was made at the end of the “album-era,” when the entire record was meant to be viewed as a cohesive work of art – instead of a collection of singles and downloadable content – and to this day it stands up as a stellar example of how an entire record can be so much more than the sum of the individual songs contained therein. The entire second side flows together like a four-part suite even though “Swords And Knives” had been written three years earlier for proposed inclusion in the soundtrack to the film Sid & Nancy.
After their third album, Curt Smith left the band and Roland continued to release works under the Tears For Fears moniker. Though Smith is often viewed as the Oates or Garfunkel of the duo, his absence was markedly audible on the subsequent recordings, none of which matched the success, energy, or musicality of the original trilogy of records. Sure enough, when he returned fifteen years later for the release of Everybody Loves A Happy Ending, it was their best sounding album since The Seeds Of Love.
The Seeds Of Love is destined to be remembered as the band’s third act (by those outside the lifetime listeners who remember it at all). It could actually make for a very suitable final act – and closes fittingly with “Famous Last Words” – if one chooses to view everything that came after as the work of a separate creative team. After the success of The Hurting and Songs From The Big Chair, this album may have been a disappointment on the charts, but musically it could be argued that …Seeds… is the pinnacle of their artistic achievements and ambitions.