If you were looking for a band to sum up pop music’s arc over the Eighties, then you’d need to look no further than Tears for Fears.
The Bath duo pretty much set that decade’s tone – for better and worse. The sparse New Wave synth-pop of their hugely influential 1983 debut album The Hurting led to the mainstream gloss of 1985’s Songs from the Big Chair, which in turn begat the over-produced pomposity of 1989’s Seeds of Love.
And so the band’s show at the Royal Albert Hall, a precursor to their first UK tour for 18 years next year, was inevitably a mixed bag: era-defining synth anthems nestled next to powerhouse pop and po-faced, serious rock. It made for a fascinating, but occasionally uneven, delve into British pop history.
You can hear Tears for Fears’s influence everywhere these days. It’s in The 1975’s sheen and groove, in Arcade Fire’s synth obsessions and electronic flourishes, and in Lorde’s space and textures. Tears for Fears were chameleons, too. Anyone in any doubt about their habit of absorbing contemporaneous influences should listen to the funky drums and wah-wah guitar of Lord of Karma, a 1992 B-side. It is The Stone Roses in all but name.
As if to acknowledge their influence on today’s artists, Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith – fit and lithe in their mid-50s, Orzabal still with the big hair – walked on to Lorde’s icy cover of Big Chair’s Everybody Wants to Rule the World. Their own version followed, and the audience rose as though the decade of the Sony Walkman, Quatro and the Sinclair C5 was still upon us.
Everyone looks back, and two songs later Tears for Fears – who reformed in 2000 after nine years apart – nodded to their own heroes with their 1989 Beatles pastiche Sowing the Seeds of Love. Those who rolled their eyes at the song’s blatant Fab Four pretentions at the time (myself included) were forced to remind themselves that Oasis made millions doing the same thing just five years later. Seeds of Love was a set highlight.
But this pacing was problematic. Three songs in and we were two classics down with 70 minutes to go. Things lulled until we got a trio of songs from The Hurting, including an urgently claustrophobic Mad World, a song that received a second wind due to 2001 film Donnie Darko.
Momentum dipped again with an overly long Badman’s Song, but they ended the main set with Head over Heels and we were back in synth-pop heaven. They encored with Woman in Chains and Shout, perhaps their finest song. And shout the Albert Hall did. To the rafters. It was just a shame about the occasional quiet bits in between.
Touring from May 2018. Tickets: tearsforfears.com