“Suffering is supposed to be the raw stuff of art,” author Jay McInerney once said. No doubt Roland Orzabel and Curt Smith would agree, the pair, collectively Tears for Fears. They apparently had unhappy childhoods and ended up in therapy. They seem wound up in self-doubt and analysis…which helped make some of the greatest music of the ’80s. On this day in 1983, they put out their debut album, The Hurting, a concept album about childhood stress, psychological distress and resultant therapy. Not quite the typical songs about Chevy’s and girls in tight sweaters that so dominated much of pop then!
Growing up, Orzabel had loved country music while Smith leaned towards heavy metal, two genres not much reflected in their eventual band. Both did like the likes of Peter Gabriel and Talking Heads however, which perhaps explains the sound a bit better. Their debut was something of a soundtrack to angst, pre-grunge, with the musically accomplished but downbeat hits “Mad World,” which had been a hit for them in the UK a few months earlier, the slightly more optimistic “Change” and “Pale Shelter,” which curiously had been released a year earlier and hit the top 20 in Canada. With tracks like the title one and “Memories Fade” added in, it wasn’t a brightening listen, but it was a fine one.
The album won instant recognition with the BBC raving about it and Smash Hits giving it an 8 out of 10 rating. There were a few dissenters however; the NME there complained “this record, and others like it are terrible! Useless art that makes self-pity and futility a commercial proposition” while Melody Maker liked the music but did point out “it sounds ironically happy to wallow”. On this side of the Atlantic, Rolling Stone, typically not huge fans of “new wave”, gave it 3-stars but noting that they “stand out among the current crop of identikit synth-pop groups by virtue of their resourceful, stylish songwriting.” Later on, Q would grade it 4-stars and the Record Collector gave it positive reviews, saying “troubled upbringings married with immediate, infectious, hummable tunes.”
The three singles, “Mad World”, “Pale Shelter” and “Change” were all top 5 hits at home where in only three weeks it was certified gold – pretty good doing for a brand new act! It eventually it went to #1 in Britain. there it actually knocked Michael Jackson off the top spot, before itself being dethroned by Pink Floyd. In their homeland it sold to platinum levels as it did in Canada, where it got to #7. American success would have to wait mind you, it scratched up to #73 in the U.S. and was avoided by most hit radio although popular on college stations (and outlier KROQ in L.A. where the three singles were all among their year-end top 50). As unusual and surprising as the album was, it was only a hint of the success they’d find a couple of years later with Songs from the Big Chair .