ELTON John once wrote for Rolling Stone Magazine that the best albums were always short, claiming to be disappointed when he saw an album stretching to 13 or 14 tracks. He must have loved Songs from the Big Chair then. At only eight tracks song, Tears for Fears’ second album somehow managed to stay monumental, while only containing a small number of songs.
How did they manage to do this I hear you cry? Tears for Fears already had defined their New Wave sound with their debut, The Hurting, with songs like ‘Mad World’ and ‘Suffer the Children’. Looking back at those songs now, they sound quintessentially 80s, the music being primarily formulated from electronic synthesizers and drumming programs. With Songs from the Big Chair, this sound is refined and built upon. The synthesizers aren’t gone, but instead are accompanied by the likes of saxophones, powerful bass and a whole range of percussion.
There is a feeling that every song was written to blow people away, to give each tune a bombastic feeling. The album narrowly avoids feeling bloated and overblown by keeping the track listing short the result of which creates an ‘all killer, no filler’ kind of album. Just looking at the smug satisfaction on the faces of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith that feature on the cover will tell you a lot of what you need to know. This album is a giant “fuck you” to the music industry; they know they’ve created something good, and they will happily flaunt it.
And, yes, Songs from the Big Chair is actually a pretty great album. The giant opening trio of ‘Shout’, ‘The Working Hour’ and ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ is enough to surprise the modern listener without adding ‘Mothers Talk’ on to that. When things finally slow down with ‘I Believe’, it’s only for a moment before diving back into the conjoined ‘Broken’ and ‘Head Over Heels’ before diving into the melancholy and moving ‘Listen’.
When I listened to this album for the first time, I was not only blown away, not only by the sheer magnitude of this album, but also its clear effect on modern music. I couldn’t hear ‘Listen’ without thinking of the likes of Metronomy or James Blake. Sure, it’s not quite to the same scale, but there’s definitely something there. Then there’s Lorde’s pretty great cover of ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’, where the Aussie singer puts her own dark spin on the pop classic.
The title of this album came from the film Sybil, where a woman with split personalities felt like she could only be herself when sitting in her analyst’s big chair. Tears for Fears took that feeling and used it to create their own songs that did what they wanted them to do. In the process this created an album that goes all out, making it bombastic, yet highly enjoyable.
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