Tears For Fears has proven a persistent musical force, overcoming the most adverse conditions, and continuing to survive despite often being unjustly lumped in with the most disposable of pop/rock acts from the ‘80s. The Tipping Point is the culmination of nearly a decade of false starts for Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith to follow-up 2004’s ironically titled Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, compounded by the death of Orzabal’s wife in 2017. Though that sad event haunts various points on the record, The Tipping Point resonates with the kind of pleasure and beauty that can only be felt from old friends creating together again.
Right from the opening acoustic strums of “No Small Thing,” with Orzabal singing in a relaxed tone free from the polished and produced drama of the band’s ‘80s heyday, we are treated to an ambience almost vaudevillian with Doug Petty’s accordion and Hammond organ, yet so close to gospel as Smith’s tenor soars in the chorus. Though hardly the most melancholy track, one can feel a sense of loss and wisdom as Orzabal sings, “Don’t buy into the fairy tale, just be good to yourself,” and “When I’m wrinkled and wise, I will trade all my liberty for that look in your eyes.” Even more harrowing is “Please Be Happy,” which Orzabal had sung on the original demo, but with Smith taking the lead, lyrics like “It’s like a wave is breaking over you, dragging you in with the undertow / If you lay among the graves, you will see other ghosts” given added weight – is it Orzabal calling to his late wife, or is it a lament to himself, pleading to accept the loss? Put simply, it’s probably the album’s most heartbreaking track.
However, listening to these 10 songs, it can truly be said that Smith and Orzabal have never sounded better, their voices so wonderfully complementing each other in a shared bliss that permeates the record. “My Demons” hits with an almost industrial shuffle beat and a stuttering synth that make for a darkly post-punk thrust; Orzabal’s disaffected and layered verses against Smith’s spirited and impassioned wail in the chorus recalls some of the band’s earlier more electronic sounds, but with the confidence of a band with four decades behind them. The same can be said of the title track, the dublike intro leading into an instrumental of light guitars and airy keyboards in tandem with the vocal harmonies, creating an effect eerie and ethereal, while “Rivers of Mercy” sees Smith acting as an almost lilting, comforting response to Orzabal’s wearier but no less emotive mid-range, the interplay of chiming guitars, a subtly bouncy bass line, and sweet pianos just plain lovely. There is an artful simplicity to a song like “Master Plan” as its lyrics speak of the need to balance youthful rage to affect change with the calm of experience and faith that things will work out, or “Break the Man” in its attack on patriarchy set to splashes of steely guitar and swirling ambient keyboards, Smith’s luscious tenor almost demanding one to sing along; fans of Hypefactor or Trade Secrets will surely enjoy this one. “Stay” concludes the album notably with a shift from the brooding verse to an uplifting chorus, the choirlike vocals and synths wisping away beautifully.
There are moments in the human experience when people are joined together in both joy and sorrow, and though the circumstances that led to Tears For Fears finally reuniting to produce The Tipping Point were both frustrating and tragic, the results are so euphorically sublime. There’s a solemnity to what Orzabal and Smith have crafted, not just as a cathartic and loving tribute to a departed loved one; as a songwriting duo, they’ve had their peaks and valleys, and The Tipping Point is the sound of a lush valley fertile with a band that no longer wants to rule the world, content to enjoy a peaceful creativity.