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How Prog Were Tears For Fears?

Tears For Fears were the proggiest duo of the ‘80s, says our man in the know...

They're the subject of the current issue's Outer Limits feature. And they, were, says our man inn the know, very proggy indeed...

Certainly The Pet Shop Boys, Soft Cell, Erasure, Go West and Yazoo were quite a bit less prog. 

Partly it was a matter of the company they kept. If you can be prog-by-association, they were Very Prog Indeed. There were members of King Crimson and Camel on their 1983 debut album, The Hurting, and members of Stackridge and Peter Gabriel’s band on the second, 1985’s Songs From The Big Chair, which also featured a song dedicated to Soft Machine man Robert Wyatt. Phil Collins even drummed on their third, The Seeds Of Love, fergawdsake! In fact, Seeds was a veritable session-fest, with cameos from Dave Gilmour’s sidekick Pino Palladino and Manu Katché, mainstay of Peter Gabriel’s So. And Rick Wright’s son-in-law played bass on the fourth, 1993’s Elemental. In 2014, Steven Wilson took time out from remixing Yes, Crimson and Jethro Tull to give Songs From The Big Chair the full 5.1 Surround Sound treatment. And the proggiest indie rocker of the late-‘90s, Paul Draper of Mansun, is a massive Tears fan - that was him making connections between TFF and ‘80s Yes in a recent issue of Prog

Draper noted, correctly, a definite prog ambition in their words and music._ Start of The Breakdown_, the closing track from The Hurting, was “really proggy”, he noted, perhaps thinking of Mel (Alan Parsons Project) Collins’ flute solo or the jazzy percussion of Ross Cullum, who has worked with everyone from Kate Bush to Karlheinz Stockausen and was usually heard listening, in between recording sessions, to John Coltrane. The fact that The Hurting was a concept album of sorts, about TFF boys Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith’s dysfunctional childhoods, added to their PQ (Prog Quotient). 

Songs From The Big Chair had an even higher PQ. Listen to Broken  - it sounds like Yes jamming with Asia. Or the seven-minute Listen, which features a soaring vocal from Marilyn Davis that has Clare Torry circa Great Gig In The Sky written all over it.

I Believe (see end of feature) is a near relation of Wyatt’s Shipbuilding. Mothers Talk is a distant cousin of Weather report. And there is a pomp and majesty to the production and arrangements of singles like Shout and Everybody Wants To Rule The World that were none more prog. No wonder Orzabal admitted in that recent edition of Prog: “We were trying to out-Horn Trevor!

Then there’s The Seeds Of Love, whose credits read like something off a prog album, with names such as world music prime mover Jon Hassell on trumpet, Pete Hope-Evans of Medicine Head on harmonica, Horn’s right-hand-man Luis Jardim on percussion and Phil Collins and Simon Peter Phillips (Mike Oldfield, The Who) on drums. And tracks like Swords And Knives and Year Of The Knife were object lessons in excess and sonic bombast.  

Still think they’re a couple of pop muppets from Bath? 

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