No one could accuse Tears For Fears of opting for the easy route on their debut LP and few could have predicted that an album based on emotional distress and primal scream therapy would become the first statement of intent from one of Britain’s most successful acts. To celebrate 30 years since its release, ‘The Hurting’ has now been reissued again, this time as a 3 CD plus one DVD package.
First things first, a note of caution: listening to the original album itself requires significant emotional investment so listening to all four discs’ worth of material in one sitting may induce one to try a bit of primal scream therapy themselves. Childhood friends Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith conveyed a difficult upbringing via the medium of synths, guitars and histrionic vocals. The good news is that even after samples and covers from acts as diverse as Kanye West and Gary Jules/Michael Andrews, ‘The Hurting’ has lost little of its impact. This being the debut album, there is an air of mystery and welcome naivety about these songs so even at the times when the music comes across as a little too earnest, like for instance on ‘Watch Me Bleed’, the winning enthusiasm and melodies make up for any apparent failings.
‘The Hurting’ may be an ingenious and challenging album but it’s still a pop album too. Indeed, the top 5 singles from this period, ‘Mad World’, ‘Change’ and Pale Shelter’, all endure like the fresh, melancholically-flavoured hits they always were, rather than the over-familiar 80’s anthems they could have been. Lest we forget, the first single was actually ‘Suffer The Children’ and it too has stood the test of time well. The title track sets things off to a tremendous start with dramatic and unexpected key changes, impassioned vocals and youthful vigour. Meanwhile, the likes of White Lies could only hope to achieve the power and conviction of ‘Memories Fade’ and ‘Start Of The Breakdown’ in their wildest dreams.
The Live Sessions CD is largely made up of Peel Sessions and David Jensen BBC Sessions with a couple of live tracks tacked on at the end. These versions could be regarded as mildly interesting variations rather than dramatic reconstructions and by the end of it, the high mixing of drum machines begins to grate. The B-Sides & Remixes CD offers the most gold in terms of both curiosity value and quality, not least a lullaby version of ‘Suffer The Children’ and a busy, adventurous version of ‘Change’. There are also the B-sides, ‘Wino’ being a rather simplistic acoustic ditty whilst ‘We Are Broken’ exemplifies what troubled souls Smith and Orzabal must have been during this time.
The final piece of the deluxe edition is a DVD recording from 1984’s of ‘In My Mind’s Eye’; a live performance at Hammersmith Odeon. It was originally released on good old VHS and the visual effects which were added then are as “of the time” as Smith and Orzabal’s hairstyles. Nevertheless, as a document of its era it stands up well, the sound quality is good and demonstrates the transition from angst-ridden artists to stadium rock band so airtime is given to ‘The Hurting’ and material which was later to appear on 1985’s ‘Songs From The Big Chair’. Certainly the complex, jazzy arrangements for the likes of ‘The Working Hour’ work well in this format but even Orzabal’s tongue in cheek introduction, for ‘We Are Broken/Head Over Heels’ (“This is a segue which means they’re joined together”) can’t hide the fact that this experiment would have fared better with the latter as a standalone track. Picking out key moments from ‘The Hurting’, the version of ‘The Prisoner’ delivers its paranoid, disorientated message convincingly via the intensity of the performers but Orzabal’s earnestness begins to wear thin for an intimate ‘Ideas As Opiates’.
There is no doubt that only Tears For Fears devotees would really need this edition of the album (there is a slimmed-down 2CD version too) but what is also clear from listening to ‘The Hurting’ (and all the multiple versions herein) is that rarely has such difficult subject matter been made so palatable for a commercial audience. Despite going on to huge success for ‘Songs From The Big Chair’, Tears For Fears never bettered their first album and in truth, few bands ever will.