While a few cynics may dislike Tears For Fears' liberal references to many of the great hooks of rock history present on this album - it does indeed borrow heavily from The Beatles, The La's, Pink Floyd, Coldplay, Radiohead, and other "A-List" pop and rock groups - the rest of us can simply exult in listening to some of the best rock music produced by any group this decade. Tears For Fears delivered some uncommonly strong pop music in the 1980s - from the melancholy longing of "Mad World" and "Pale Shelter" to the soaring shuffle-step of "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" to the sophisticated orchestration of "Sowing The Seeds Of Love" and "Woman In Chains". But never before have they delivered an album so evenly excellent as this new offering. To begin with, their sound - while making references to their past and their "brand" - has been made much more stripped-down, organic and melodic. Rather than relying on orchestration and computer-generated effects to carry their sound, Orzabal and Smith have largely relied on good old-fashioned chord changes, melodies, bridges and choruses played on good old-fashioned musical instruments: guitar, bass, drums, piano - with the occasional horns, winds, and strings. Any of the songs, it seems, could be performed acoustically and sound great. The album's tone is also noticeably different from their past efforts. Its relatively upbeat nature might take some by surprise - indeed, this is a far "happier" album than either Songs From The Big Chair or The Seeds Of Love. The Beatle-esque "Wake Up" chorus on the title track makes this clear immediately, and the upbeat tone is continued on "Call Me Mellow" and "Closest Thing To Heaven" - a song that recalls "Sowing The Seeds Of Love" in its chorus, its structures and its politically-minded lyrics. "Secret World" and "Last Days On Earth" are genuine love songs, something that TFF fans will recognize as somewhat of a genre shift for Orzabal and Smith. But while the emotional darkness of their past albums is less pronounced, it is still quite apparent on certain tracks - in both upbeat rockers like "Quiet Ones" ("Oh, look into her eyes / You see such silent stalling / Nothing seems to matter in this life") and ballads like "Size of Sorrow" ("Pain, I can understand pain / Sometimes you just swallow / Say we can make it OK / Don't steal, just borrow"). And "The Devil" must rank among the darkest songs Orzabal has ever penned, both lyrically and musically. Happily, this album also traces Smith's emergence as a strong songwriter in his own right, as evinced not only on his joint efforts with Orzabal and Pettus (which, unlike in the past, account for the majority of the album), but in the song Who You Are, a beautiful ballad that recalls the soulful longing of past Orzabal songs like I Believe. The result is an album that is bursting with both new ideas and old ones, that comes alive with freshness while it takes a hard look at the past. It certainly reflects the band members' maturity as songwriters and musicians, but it also seems to complete the band's circle: it shows their coming to terms with themselves and each other after decades of turmoil. Best of all, the "magic" that fans originally found in The Hurting and in Big Chair - the power and anger in Orzabal's voice combining with the soaring and longing in Smith's - has returned. And it has returned with a consistency across all 12 songs that the band has never accomplished before. All in all, it's not just a happy ending - it's a masterpiece.
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