Tears For Fears sounds a lot like a lot of other British bands. On the group's second album you can hear U2's social conscience, the Bunnymen's echoing guitars and XTC's contorted pop wit, as well as lead singer Curt Smith's version of the affected sob that's run through art rock from Yes to Spandau Ballet. Apparently, these elements have not been borrowed consciously but absorbed naturally which is worse: they can't help it if you've heard it all before.
What nudges Songs from the Big Chair slightly ahead of the pack is the sparkling production by Chris Hughes, which aspires to and sometimes achieves the chilly grandeur of Thomas Dolby's studio work. The songs inevitably progress toward dense noise, but they always begin with pristine snatches of odd hooks juxtaposed to suggest spaciousness and atmosphere. The gorgeous saxophone and bell-like electric keyboards that precede the Latin rhythms of "The Working Hour," for instance, conjure a daydream of heaven to distract the workingman from his woes. Except for "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," a catchy Beatlesque number updated to the Synth Age, the songs are more interesting for their textures than for their melodies or lyrics. The last cut, "Listen," has the most to offer in terms of sheer beauty, with its cracking-glacier sound effects and airy synths, wafting operatic soprano and inscrutable chanting. It leaves only an elusive impression, but it's a lovely surprise at the end of an album typified by crunch rockers like "Shout" and "Broken." (RS 448)
(Posted: May 23, 1985)
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