Tuesday, 7 January 2014
TEARS FOR FEARS: The Hurting
(#277: 26 March 1983, 1 week)
Track listing: The Hurting/Mad World/Pale Shelter/Ideas As Opiates/Memories Fade/Suffer The Children/Watch Me Bleed/Change/The Prisoner/Start Of The Breakdown
"...young professionals in the car on their way home from the theatre, or to the restaurant, who want to listen to something familiar - like Kenny Rogers..." - R1's head Derek Chinnery's idea, as related to and by John Peel, as to what kind of audience Peel should be attracting.
"People complain if I play records...which are overtly political. In the same respect, a Duran Duran record is going to be played a lot more and is equally political - their Third World videos are monstrous as their holidays in the sun are holidays in other people's misery." - John Peel, on why he'd rather play Billy Bragg than Duran Duran.
When I think of The Hurting I think of lonely teenagers sitting on their bed or on the floor listening by themselves; maybe on a Walkman, maybe just through the speakers or some older headphones. The album as therapy? Why, yes. The Hurting is playing and the therapy session begins...
Tears For Fears emerged out of the not-much-going-on Bath in late 1981, Mercury Records' replacement band when Teardrop Explodes turned out to be a lot more unpredictable than they'd expected. Teenagers Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith had been in a ska group but then got a few Peter Gabriel and Joy Division and Talking Heads albums in their system and decided that they, along with Arthur Janov's book The Primal Scream, would be the building blocks for their work as Tears For Fears.
Which is to say, this is an album by two young men, reflecting on their childhood; and hello, Generation X. I doubt if John Peel ever bothered to play them, but I cannot imagine the idealized yuppies of Chinnery's imagination regarding them as "familiar." This is in part because of that generational difference - the aspiring-to-glamour couple in their car vs. the teenager holed up in his/her room, listening to this album because it speaks to them of something else which is terribly "familiar" - being lonely, misunderstood, confused, anxious...living in a world that seems, to all intents and purposes, bent on destroying itself. (The imminent nuclear apocalypse was always there, lurking in the corner, and was at its peak around this time, at least in my experience.)
..."The Hurting" knocks on the door, hesitantly, walks in, sits down and plainly states: "Could you ease my load/Could you see my Pain/Could you please explain/The Hurting." An arching and fading wail, like a baby's or a moment of Yoko Ono processed somehow, appears as the child cries; a moment of Mike Oldfield strumming comes in here and there, pointing somehow to the fact this is not an album from a big city but is out in the country - isolated, wide, predictable and either too noisy or too quiet...
...which is a good description of where I lived as well; my turf was on any ordinary day very small (I could see my high school from my bedroom window, we lived catty-corner to it) and I sat at the freaks and geeks table during lunch period, of course.* Orzabal writes of living in a "mad" world when he says he may as well use the word "bourgeois" to refer to the conformist and boring scene before him in Bath. In a place like that you have to grab hard on to something and hope that it, whatever it is, pulls you out; for Orzabal and Smith it was Primal Scream therapy** as a method of work and subject matter alike. "Mad World" is like a dam breaking, "I find it hard to tell you because I find it hard to take" - that "take" spat out, Smith fed up with everything he sees, in himself and outside too. Oh teenage angst! The mood is ominous, there's mocking laughter in corners, and yes, an admission of nothingness, a longing for non-existence, all sung to a song that is percussion-based (the Gabriel influence - to build up from rhythm) and hooky as anything. Tears For Fears may not be New Pop, but their influences were the same and that lesson - build a R1-friendly and slick surface and smuggle things inside it - is definitely here.
"Pale Shelter" is as elegant as anything - that guitar strum, that rising and falling line, the call-and-response - Curt Smith as the new David Cassidy, asking "how can I be sure" and singing it not to a girl but his parents, the world even. "You don't give me love" he cries out, about as far away musically as the blunt Lennon songs that emerged from therapy could be. The mood is sorrowful but somehow also uplifting - as in the old Greek idea of catharsis, a cleaning out, is the relief after tragedy. Therapy requires a lowering of guard, an openness that goes against the usual British sense of reserve; this album is against the grain of all that reserve, which is why it didn't get reviewed very kindly, being so obsessively about pain and its causes and solutions.
"Ideas As Opiates" has stark piano chords and a thumping OMD percussion of beat and echo; discordant notes pop up, clanging as Orzabal testifies to how "lies spread on lies" and ego-tripping separate people from their inner selves. There's a saxophone solo (well, it is the 80s) by Mel Collins, sympathetic to this Radiohead-predicting wail of vanity and ideas being valued over feelings.
"Memories Fade" is about repression - and it's another song of lost love, straight out of Janov but now predicting The Verve, Smith's voice singing/yelping "What can I do/When History's my cage/Look forward to a future in the past!" as if it's perhaps not just him who needs therapy but a whole country that is stuck looking backwards, preferring to do that than look at their own selves and figure out what they, singly and collectively, need. The little boy on the cover - not like U2's defiant boy, even in surrender, but in pain, holding his head because everything is too much - is that inner child the band is trying to reach, isolated, feeling scared, longing for some kind words and gestures. This is a long way from Duran Duran, and it is safe to say (again in my high school experience) that you either liked them or Tears For Fears, but never both. The song ends with more saxophone and a tense rising note, a distressing hum, percussion stiff as well, that needs some shaking out.
"Suffer The Children" is very OMDesque, Orzabal's crooning about the "sad affair" when a child cries out in the night and no one is there, the "only child in the only room" who has been brought into this world out of love, only to not have any real love given to him. The song skips along as if to say, ha-ha, we too are part of that legendary month, November 1981; the music may be derivative but the essence of the thing is here, the alienation from parents and existential loneliness. Orzabal's wife Caroline sings along la-la style, and it was their first post-ska song, their first time playing around with sequencers and drum machines, and that naivete somehow gets into the song as well.
"Watch Me Bleed" seems to be the only truly self-pitying song here; oh watch me as I repress the Pain, etc. I can imagine this is where reviewers would throw in their figurative towels, saying to themselves, "Oh Orzabal could you please get over yourself, you're not the only one who's ever suffered!" But in any therapy there's got to be a low point, a place where emotions and reason meet. "Where do I go?/Where do I run?/What's left of me or anyone when we've denied/The hurting?" And at last the important word "we" comes in. Not the ugly "we" of assuming headlines, but the "we" as in "we're in the same boat" sense of community and united purpose. The "we" of that teenager who has realized that s/he is just as messed up as anyone else, and that oddly enough in that messed-up state there is some cause for hope. This is an obsessive album, meant to be listened to again and again, just as long as it is needed - again, like therapy. And this is the turning point of The Hurting...
..."Change" leaps out sprightly, out of the gloom, sparkling and smooth, the words a kind of reaching out to someone else, someone who is "cool" and untrue to themselves, with the insistence that this person who has disappeared can change, can reappear, can be himself again. It is an encouragement, a back-and-forth motion of a song, overtly poppy and just the sort of thing that that yuppie couple might nod their heads to after a long night out. (It got to #4, so they must have heard it.) "Where does the end of me/Become the start of you?" Smith sings as if trying to repair something in himself as much as the other person. You aren't happy so I'm not happy, in other words; that Pain is recognized in others now, not just the self.
"The Prisoner" (nothing to do with the tv series) is the song most indebted to Gabriel, all big beats and quiet scary singing and strong rhythms and odd bleeps and bumps. This is the inner self finally out, making a run for it, "Here anger is me/Love sets me free/Feeling and not believing." The strong feelings have been released, and it's the atmosphere of the song that really counts - urgent, as if that thing they grasped is in their hands and it's finally going somewhere, at last. It is as brief as a run out of, or into, a house...
..."Start Of The Breakdown" is that house being shaken at last, ice melting, the "final demand" of the body to collapse and renew itself. The resolution is here, the repression is over, and now healing (not "closure"- Primal Scream therapy isn't really about that) can begin, that old Pain can be confronted and dealt with. The very earth itself - a "burial ground" - comes in, a kind of "going back to my roots" moment, the music all descending and resolving, as if something has been found, or let go. The session is over...
If you count this psychological examination - a reliving of trauma in order to get your self (not just your mind but your whole body) into a healthier place as a personal act only, then this isn't a political album. But if you count the personal as the political, that a nation of free (as opposed to repressed) people is better politically than not, then this is by definition an political album, even if most of the people who bought it weren't old enough to vote.
For such a confrontational album, alien to almost everything else in the charts (U2 had the same kind of angst but were because of their faith more optimistic to start with) it did amazingly well, staying in the album chart for well over a year. The duo became pop stars, pin-ups (the usual "Oh Curt you're too beautiful to suffer!" takes a new meaning here) and heroes to the teenagers in nowheresvilles in the UK and around the world, to influence not just Radiohead but My Chemical Romance, Mansun and The Smashing Pumpkins and just about anyone who is "emo" - verily we have the beginning of emo right here, more or less. That they also influenced Wyclef Jean and other hip-hop people shows that this album is far more than two awkward middle children reading Janov and inventing their own therapy session with an acoustic guitar. If this is political then it stands right with Bragg, Robert Wyatt and the rest, all those folks that Peel continued to play even as Chinnery shook his head and decided in future to reduce Peel's on air time to just three days. Meanwhile, this album took hold and spoke to and for a generation that happily stayed up to hear things that weren't familiar. A new generation was making music to help itself, ultimately, and in turn those who listened gave back that influence in the 90s and beyond...
Meanwhile I listened to this (on vinyl, downstairs when my parents weren't around - I didn't have a Walkman yet and wouldn't for a few years) and only bought it as I heard them on CFNY; by this time I listened to no other station and now count myself lucky to have been able to listen to it at this time when radio was becoming more conservative, less ready to take chances. Station head David Marsden (I could've thanked him in person at a school dance but didn't, alas) made sure it played not just Duran Duran but also Tears For Fears, U2, Echo and The Bunnymen and so on. Unlike Chinnery he didn't care about catering to yuppies; he knew there were enough misfits like me out there to make the station possible, and I imagine he took note of Peel's (and Kid Jensen's) playlists and not just what was in the charts. This station kept me going through my not-one-date adolescence, reminded me - just as The Hurting did - that there were a lot more people in my position than not, even if we were all by ourselves, listening...
...next up: 1944 and everything after.
*I wonder, looking back, how many people would have considered theirs to be that table; but I can tell you mine was, and this situation lasted the whole time I was there.
**As a therapy it was popularized right away in 1970 by John Lennon, whose influence on this album is indelible and inevitable. The success of this brought the book back into fashion, though in my experience teenagers don't really need that much encouragement to scream.