‘The Seeds Of Love’: Tears For Fears Beat The Odds And Bloom Again

By the last months of the 1980s, it had been over four years since ‘Songs From The Big Chair.’ Could Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith still deliver?

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Tears For Fears 'The Seeds Of Love' artwork - Courtesy: UMG
Tears For Fears 'The Seeds Of Love' artwork - Courtesy: UMG

As the distance from Tears For Fears’ hugely successful second album Songs From The Big Chair grew ever greater, both their fans and industry-watchers wondered whether they’d left it too long.

Rumors of the expense of the new production, said to be near £1 million, were accompanied by stories of abandoned sessions, creative uncertainty and huge delays. By the last months of the 1980s, it had been over four years since their worldwide breakthrough. Could Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith still deliver?

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Early sessions with in-demand producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley (Madness, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Elvis Costello et al) were abandoned. So were later recordings with Chris Hughes, before the renewed positivity of TFF’s work with Dave Bascombe came up trumps. The Seeds Of Love was released on September 25, 1989 and, on October 7, went straight to No.1 in the UK.

The success was all the more sweet because, for all the multi-platinum success of Big Chair, it never made the top of the UK chart, spending an aggregate three weeks at No.2. The Seeds Of Love didn’t go on to enjoy the chart longevity of its predecessor, but still cruised into the Top 10 in the US and around much of Europe.

This time, the new material had been introduced by the first single “Sowing The Seeds Of Love,” an Orzabal-Smith composition with a strong flavour of psychedelic, Beatles-influenced pop. The album offered a wide range of styles, including the delicate opening track “Woman In Chains,” which featured drums by Phil Collins and introduced the exquisite vocal talents of Oleta Adams. There were further singles in “Advice For The Young At Heart” and “Famous Last Words.”

The opening single and near-title track was the only one on the record to carry a co-writing credit for Smith. Orzabal wrote “Woman In Chains” and “Standing on the Corner of the Third World” on his own, and penned the remaining five songs with Nicky Holland. The latter singer-songwriter also worked with the Fun Boy Three, filmmaker John Hughes and on her own self-titled and Sense and Sensuality albums.

As Holland revealed in a 2017 interview with Songwriting magazine, Tears For Fears had admired her work well before they finally got together. “TFF asked me to work with them while they were making Songs From The Big Chair, but I declined as I was in the studio with [Phonogram signings] The Escape,” she said. “That project eventually petered out, and the next time they approached me, they sent me ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World.’ I was blown away, and immediately agreed to accompany them on their world tour, which ended up lasting the best part of a year.

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“During that tour,” Holland continued, “Roland and I started writing during sound checks and continued to do so back in London, when we got back home. Five of the six songs we wrote ended up on their Seeds Of Love album, and I played piano and keyboards, sang and arranged strings on those songs. The sixth, ‘The Rhythm Of Life,’ was recorded by Oleta Adams, for her debut album Circle Of One.” Among those co-writes for The Seeds Of Love, “Swords and Knives” featured oboe and saxophone by Kate St. John, with whom Holland had earlier been in the trio the Ravishing Beauties, also featuring Virginia Astley.

‘A mature, musically sophisticated album’

In Rolling Stone, Michael Azerrad greeted the much-delayed album by observing: “The band has returned with a mature, musically sophisticated album that’s bound to impress even the most doubting of Thomases. Eight sprawling tracks of wide-screen Gabrielesque art rock (that’s an average of two a year) are wedded to a meticulous production; TFF’s Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal are clearly perfectionists – the record is heavily produced, but not to the point that all the life is produced right out of it.”

Listen to the best of Tears For Fears on Apple Music and Spotify.

Greg Kot in the Chicago Tribune marveled: “The result is astonishing: instead of sounding labored and constricted, Seeds of Love has a wide open, soulful spaciousness that belies the heavy production expenses.”

Upon the record’s release, Curt Smith succinctly summed up all the delays and tribulations that went into its creation by telling Q magazine: “Although we know what we want, we’re not geniuses, unfortunately. But what we have is a certain passion for the end result, a passion to get it right.”

Buy or stream The Seeds Of Love.

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