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Reviewed by David Medsker
And then there’s Tears For Fears, this pair of awkward school boys from Bath, England who named their group after the teachings of primal scream pioneer Arthur Janov, of all things. They wrote songs about mad worlds, pale shelter, watching them bleed and the start of the breakdown. How on earth did this translate into massive success? Okay, a lot of it had to do with one of the best driving songs ever written (“Everybody Wants to Rule the World”), but the point is the same. Tears For Fears were on a completely different level than most of their platinum peers; instead of just making pop records, they made pop records that mattered.
This is why Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, the band’s sixth album and the first to feature bassist Curt Smith since 1989’s The Seeds of Love, couldn’t have come at a better time. Music has never been as disposable, as utterly worthless and throwaway -- Jason Mraz, anyone? -- as it is right now. (Ironically, the musical climate in 1989, when Seeds of Love came out, was nearly identical.) And while Happy Ending is not quite as heady as the first three TFF Smith/Orzabal albums, it’s certainly more ambitious than anything else on the market, and miles above the two albums Orzabal did in the ‘90s without Smith.
Orzabal suppressed his Beatles jones on his solo TFF albums, but it’s back in full swing here, with the title track starting off gently, then being awoken by, natch, an alarm clock, and springing to life with a bouncy piano riff and Orzabal instructing us to “Wake up!,” implying that even the band knows that these are dark days indeed for pop music. The surprising “Call Me Mellow” is vintage guitar power pop, with a chorus that sounds like Tears For Fears covering “There She Goes” from the La’s. The first single “Closest Thing To Heaven” sounds the most like a bridge to their past – Orzabal sings the verse, Smith sings the chorus, a backwards drum fill pops up before the bridge – and while it ain’t “Sowing the Seeds of Love,” it ain’t bad, either.
The band has joked that Seeds of Love was their Lennon album, and Happy Ending is their McCartney, and there certainly are plenty of Paul-esque moments. The gorgeous ballad “Secret World” comes with a French horn solo and a drum beat straight outta “Let ‘em In,” while the chorus of “Who Killed Tangerine?,” the album’s best track, pays loving tribute to “Hey Jude.” “The Devil,” meanwhile, is a direct descendant of “I Want You/She’s So Heavy.” However, the spirit of Lennon hovers over the proceedings as well. The opening drum riff of “Tangerine” is pure “Come Together,” while “Killing with Kindness” subtly steals from “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey.” And then, just to be perverse, they end the album with “Last Days on Earth,” which is not even remotely Beatle-esque but instead an even better Bill Withers tribute than the one Ron Sexsmith put out earlier this year, “Whatever It Takes.”
Reunion albums are always a dicey proposition, since most bands do it more for the money than they do it because they feel they have something good to offer the world. (God only knows what Duran Duran’s upcoming Fab Five reunion album is going to be like.) But you can always count on the men in Tears For Fears to do it up right, and Everybody Loves A Happy Ending isn’t just done right, it’s done far better than it had a right to be. Pop music that matters. What a novel idea.