Metro Weekly

Album Review: The Tipping Point by Tears for Fears

Eighties synthpop royalty Tears For Fears surprises with a charismatic, indulgent new album

tears for fears, album, review, the tipping point
Tear for Fear: Curt Smith, Roland Orzabal

For an act that once officially broke up in 1991, Tears for Fears has had some pretty remarkable staying power. 2004’s Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, true to its title, seemed to put a satisfying capstone on their career, and the subsequent years of extensive touring as self-described “late-blooming road warriors” seemed like something between an epilogue and a victory lap. But defying expectations has been the theme of their late career, and after years coasting on their well-deserved iconic status, it turns out Tears for Fears had another album in them after all.

The Tipping Point (★★★☆☆) is not only their first studio album in 17 years, but for Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, it represents a kind of hard-won artistic freedom. Resisting the pressure from then-managers to collaborate with A-list songwriters to create a collection of hit singles, the pair did what they have always done best, creating a fully-realized album from the ground up.

Perhaps as a result of their resistance to commercial pressures, The Tipping Point is curiously short on standout hit singles. Even so, it is probably fair to say that several of its moments approach their best work. From the strumming acoustic guitar that opens the album on “No Small Thing” before giving way to expansive synths and strings, it’s apparent that they have not lost their gift for constructing an elaborate, majestic and memorable melody.

The title track is an expansive, dramatic work of grungy, spacey synth-pop-rock, with a sense of moody otherworldliness to its backing track and lyrics that are shot through with an intense immediacy. Another standout, “Break the Man,” is an immensely satisfying smash-the-patriarchy track that could easily have been ’90s chart-topper, as if to give themselves another crack at a decade they mostly missed out on as a duo.

Although Orzabal and Smith set out to create an album that was true to their own vision, that did not necessarily mean making a cohesive one. The eclecticism of The Tipping Point mostly works quite well, but also produces some strange and uneven moments. The cathartic “My Demons” channels anger and anxiety over big tech and the surveillance state with the album’s most raw and aggressive production by far. The subject is timely and the backing track has stellar moments, but despite its promise, it never quite comes together, instead meandering and fizzling out by its end.

Tears for Fears: The Tipping Point

“Rivers of Mercy” is a sprawling, six-minute ballad that seems to attempt to grapple with the chaos of the outside world, even beginning with sirens and an angry crowd voiceover. Over serene instrumentals, its lyrics express a desire to be delivered to a simpler, quieter time and place. Its choral arrangements and drum machines are rich and absorbing, but along with the sentimental lyrics, the song toes an uneasy line between hearteningly sincere and saccharine. That balancing act gets more uneasy as the song goes along and it all but exhausts itself by its halfway point. The sense of melodrama in the music, as much as it is part of Tears for Fears’ brand, also occasionally holds the album back, as it does here.

They do, however, pull off the melodrama incredibly well on “Master Plan,” a bombastic closing-credits song that also serves as a dig at their former management and the more soulless parts of the music industry writ large, which the pair worried would reduce them to hollow commercial vessels. It drips with righteous resentment at the idea of having one’s life mapped out by someone else, which also allows its grandiosity to come off as refreshingly tongue-in-cheek.

Orzabal and Smith have been candid that the last few years have been fraught with plenty of tipping points that could have made The Tipping Point the record that almost was. The big and small dramas that played themselves out during its long gestation are reflected in its internal diversity and occasional unevenness. In the end, though, they got to make the album they wanted, and the final product is almost certainly better for it. Some of the album’s high points recall their most celebrated work, but its real charm is in the idiosyncrasies that ultimately make this record such an absorbing listen.

The Tipping Point will be available to purchase and stream on Friday, Feb. 25. Visit Follow the band on Twitter at @tearsforfears.

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