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Tears for Fears' first album in 17 years is a sweeping examination of loss and healing

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Friends since they were teenagers in Bath, England, Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith experienced titanic success in the 1980s with MTV smashes including “Shout” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”

Then came the inevitable split in 1991, a regrouping in 2004 for the prophetically titled “Everybody Loves a Happy Ending" and an assumption that would be the final bow for Tears for Fears.

But then a renewed coolness factor attached itself to the band, with artists ranging from Adam Lambert to Lorde to Weezer covering their New Wave hits.

A spate of touring followed in the early 2010s before a series of heartrending life events struck Orzabal. In 2017, his wife of 35 years, Caroline, died after a decade of suffering with depression that led to alcohol-related dementia. The following year, Orzabal, depleted from the emotional impact of his loss, endured his own health problems, prompting him to reassess his life.

So he picked up the phone and called Smith.

Curt Smith (left) and Roland Orzabal of Tears for Fears. The duo releases its first album in 17 years, "The Tipping Point," on Feb. 25, 2022.
Curt Smith (left) and Roland Orzabal of Tears for Fears. The duo releases its first album in 17 years, "The Tipping Point," on Feb. 25, 2022.

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The pair started writing in 2020 and, 17 years since their last studio album, they’ve crafted “The Tipping Point,” their most affecting work since 1989’s lush and atmospheric “The Seeds of Love.”

A sweeping examination of loss and healing, “The Tipping Point” is a portrait of partners whose time apart only strengthened the magic of their union.

Smith and Orzabal’s vocals still blend angelically, and the 10 tracks shudder with emotion.

Here are some highlights:

'No Small Thing'

Strummed acoustic guitar and a folky backdrop aren’t what you’d expect on the opening track from these purveyors of ‘80s sheen. But the rootsy echoes of bands such as The Lumineers and Mumford & Sons works for Tears for Fears as cozily as a synthesizer.

'The Tipping Point'

The album’s title track was inspired by Orzabal’s torment of watching his wife fade away. Spackled with synthesizers before settling into a chugging groove vaguely reminiscent of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” the song offers a succinct summary: “Life is crazy and then it all turns to dust.”

'Break The Man'

This isn’t the first time Tears for Fears has championed women (see: 1989’s “Woman in Chains,” featuring Phil Collins on drums and a then-unknown Oleta Adams sharing the vocals). Their evolution in celebrating female strength continues with sunbursts of guitar blending with a pulsing backbeat as the pair sing “She’s a sinner in a side show/She feels at home when there’s nowhere left to go/she’s the devil you understand.”

Tears for Fears started working on "The Tipping Point," their first album in 17 years, in early 2020.
Tears for Fears started working on "The Tipping Point," their first album in 17 years, in early 2020.

'Please Be Happy'

A plaintive plea couched in sparse piano, the ballad maintains a personal connection to Orzabal in lyrics that spotlight the helplessness of watching someone with crippling depression. “If you lay among the graves, you will see other ghosts,” he sings while strings swell as a musical complement.

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'Master Plan'

Although it sounds like an acrimonious dissolution of a romantic relationship, the song is actually about an ex-manager of Tears for Fears. Between the buoyant bounce straight from the Paul McCartney songbook and well-timed drum fills that are one of the band’s hallmarks, the acerbic lyrics land on a melodic cushion.

'End of Night'

The most up-tempo track on the album coasts on squiggly synthesizers and a swinging rhythm. But it’s the upper-range harmonizing by Orzabal and Smith on the song’s chorus that solidifies its poppy beauty.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tears for Fears 'The Tipping Point' is first album in 17 years: Review