Music

Tears for Fears: Gold

Mike Schiller

Just about worth the purchase price for its single new track, Gold is the best summary thus far of Tears for Fears' 25 years.


Tears for Fears

Gold

Label: UME
US Release Date: 2006-08-08
UK Release Date: Available as import
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When it was released, it never got past #3 on the charts in the UK, and didn't even register in America. Its sound is a bit dated at this point, and its lyrics fairly naïve and even a bit lazy. And yet, "Mad World", a song that needs two "very"s in front of its title for the sake of filling a beat between its prechorus and chorus, has turned into Tears for Fears' signature song. Part of the credit goes to Gary Jules' version of the hit on the Donnie Darko soundtrack, a track that did hit #1 in the UK and caused a fair amount of resurgence in the collective population's interest in Tears for Fears. Part of the credit must also be ascribed to a world in which the word "terrorism" is as much a part of our lives as to have been rendered essentially impotent, a world in which a dictator brandishing nukes is barely worth a shrug before attention returns to a morass in an oil-rich nation. As it happened, the timing of a re-release of a song called "Mad World" was positively prescient.

So it goes, and "Mad World" both begins and ends Tears for Fears' most recent singles compilation, the not-all-that-imaginatively titled Gold. While I may have been a bit hard on it above, "Mad World" truly is a catchy song in the "the world's going to hell" genre, with at least three different hooks that could plant themselves in an unsuspecting listener's head on a moment's notice. The second disc of Gold ends with a much more recent live version of the same song, giving us a version that owes far more to Jules' reverent remake than the band's own upbeat original, thereby making Jules' version a now-unnecessary stopgap for the diehard Tears for Fears fan. Hey, nobody ever said they were stupid. And really, that's always been part of the charm of Tears for Fears: actual, honest to God intelligence. Their lyrics dabbled in therapy, philosophy, and social uprising, even as they wrapped it all in catchy choruses like "Shout, shout, let it all out / These are the things I can do without / Come on", or "Change! / You can change!" For a band whose synth-pop was sometimes just as likely to be found on easy-listening stations as pop or rock stations, they sure had a lot on their mind, and they weren't afraid to tell us about it. Gold tells the entire story of the band's existence in the unimaginative, but still effective way of laying out their singles in more or less chronological order, with the only deviation coming in the form of the live "Mad World" at the end. Everything else is pretty well as you would expect, with offerings from The Hurting, Songs From the Big Chair, and The Seeds of Love comprising the first disc, and Elemental, Raoul and the Kings of Spain (both basically solo discs for lead vocalist Roland Orzabal), and 2004 reunion disc Everybody Loves a Happy Ending making up the second. In fact, the tracklist for the first disc is almost exactly that of 1992's Tears Roll Down, on which the driving "Laid So Low (Tears Roll Down)" was actually changed from a B-side into a single, with one exception -- the lovely, haunting "I Believe" is swapped out for the pop reject that is "The Way You Are" -- presumably a switch made to give better representation to the boys' early days, but still a bit of trading the wheat for the chaff.

Of course, that disc still has the big ones that the folks buying this particular compilation are still going to want: The beefy, industrial "Shout" is here, the fairly cloying but still pleasantly hooky, "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" is here, and the deep, twisting journey that is "Sowing the Seeds of Love" is here as well. Of course, none of them quite compare to "Woman in Chains", a lovely rolling river of a song filled to the brim with guests like Oleta Adams and Phil Collins (more or less unnoticeable on drums), but they're still perfectly good reasons to buy Gold. The second disc, then, serves as a perfectly good primer for what we've been missing in the years most of us forgot about this wonderful little band. Unfortunately, it seems that Orzabal just isn't quite as effective without Curt Smith, and Tears for Fears' quick decline after The Seeds of Love had as much to do with a decline in the quality of the songs as the changing tastes of a fickle public. "Elemental", from the album of the same name, is a pretty decent (if short) single that contains all of the drama we'd come to expect from a Tears for Fears song, along with lots of gated synths, but "Cold" tries too hard to sound contemporary, and ends up coming out sounding dated, while "Break it Down Again" has a very, very retro feel going for it, but its melodies are too simplistic and predictable to be truly memorable. Orzabal remembered with the singles on Raoul and the Kings of Spain that a memorable chorus is integral to a good pop song, but forgot that simply repeating four words over and over again doesn't necessarily make a memorable chorus, well, good.

Of course, there was a long break between Raoul and 2004's Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, a long break in which Curt Smith and Orzabal got some solo jaunts out of the way and decided they really did go pretty well together. Everybody Loves a Happy Ending sounds like a band content with its place in history, making lush, lovely music that befits its now advanced age. None of it is nearly as expertly poppy as the band's best work from the '80s, but songs like "Secret World" and the mysterious "Who Killed Tangerine?" are thickly layered and certainly worth a few listens. And yet it is the new track, "Floating Down the River (Once Again)" that gives us hope for the future of Tears for Fears, as it's a fantastic, quirky little track that shows life and a sense of humor, even as it references the Beatles far more than anything they've ever done. It's a song that sounds like the best possible interpretation of John Lennon in a pool of Jell-O. Trust me on this, it's energetic, it's melodic, and it's unpredictable -- it has life, and it's the kind of life that would do well expanded to album length.

And so, as the two discs end on that slow take on "Mad World", not only is it an update for a never-more-applicable song, but it's also a eulogy for the band's past, a way of letting go as a song like "Floating Down the River" points toward a wonderful (if destined to be sorely underappreciated) future. In wrapping up that past so neatly and concisely, this unimaginatively assembled, yet adequately comprehensive, two disc compilation becomes the best summary of the band's career yet released. If you're an old fan, pick up Gold and check out what you've been missing. If you've never heard of Tears for Fears (and loathe as I am to admit it, I know you exist), Gold is as good a place as any to discover one of the few bands that unequivocally deserved what fleeting success it once found.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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