Tears for Fears were rightfully among the most treasured progressive/synthpop bands of the 1980s. However, the departure of Curt Smith in 1991 made their subsequent two LPs—1993’s Elemental and 1995’s Raoul and the Kings of Spain—seem like enjoyable yet unofficial Roland Orzabal solo albums. Fortunately, the pair reunited for 2004’s aptly titled Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, delighting longtime devotees and proving that the duo still possessed unbeatable chemistry. Of course, that also meant that fans have been waiting ever since for a follow-up, and fortunately, The Tipping Point more than satisfies. A tighter and leaner record than its predecessor, it’s a triumphantly nostalgic yet modern return and a consistently gorgeous set of pop-rock gems.
In contrast to the myriad supporting musicians on Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, The Tipping Point was completed only by songwriters/producers Sacha Skarbek, Florian Reutter, and Charlton Pettus (who’s been working with Tears for Fears since the mid-1990s). Although the band hasn’t released a new studio collection in nearly 20 years, their music has remained in the zeitgeist. Why? Well, due to substantial touring; appearances in increasingly popular films like Donnie Darko and Straight Outta Compton; and post-2000s sampling and covers from performers such as Kanye West, Drake, the Weeknd, and Lorde.
Thus, 2022 was an opportune time for them to arrive at this destination (even if the journey there was a bit bumpy). “Before everything went so right with this album, everything first had to go wrong. It took years, but something happens when we put our heads together. We’ve got this balance – this push-me-pull-you thing – and it works really well,” Orzabal comments. After overcoming various trepidations and conflicts—including signing to new management and a new label, Concord Records—they realized they had the creative and professional methods to put out something special. Indeed, The Tipping Point is a magnificent record full of emotional yet hooky songwriting (inspired in part by the sacredness and ephemerality of life), luscious arrangements, and pristine production.
Beautiful opener “No Small Thing” is immediately enticing because of its catchy, matter-of-fact melodies and fusion of jangly acoustic strums, uplifting percussion, faint accordion, and various other whimsical timbres. As both a declaration of sustained artistic identity and an intentional evocation of the folky sides of 1960s and 1970s Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin, it greatly succeeds. Later, “Long, Long, Long Time” approaches the same sort of rock-driven template but emphasizes synths, piano, and varied singing (thanks to Carina Round). Then, “Break the Man” and “End of Night” offer more direct and danceable bursts of life, whereas “Master Plan” kind of mixes the lovingly empowered baroqueness of Tim Bowness with the shimmering harmonies of the Beatles’ “Because”.
A few other tunes aim for a softer and deeply sentimental vibe. Chief among them is the title track, a dazzlingly hip, irregular, and digital pop darling inspired by the passing of Orzabal’s wife. The irresponsible chorus (“So who’s that ghost knocking at my door? / You know that I can’t love you more”) showcases how well the duo’s voices still blend, too. Oddly enough, “My Demons” channels the electronic/industrial exuberances of Tommy Giles Rogers Jr.’s Don’t Touch the Outside, albeit with chilling yet heavenly vocal rounds that are utterly sublime. Next, “Rivers of Mercy” is perhaps the most warmly spiritual and serene track Tears for Fears ever crafted, and its placement immediately before symphonic piano ballad “Please Be Happy” means that both pieces shine even brighter. Closer “Stay”—which was written years ago, when Smith was considering leaving the band again—is a hauntingly empty ode that’s wholly enveloping and moving.
While no piece of art is perfect, there’s not a single moment on The Tipping Point that feels faulty. Rather, it’s exquisitely intimate, poppy, and multilayered, highlighting the deepest beauties of both Smith and Orzabal’s reconciliation and their ability to incorporate outside artistic forces into their renewed creative alliance. The Tipping Point is a joyous reminder of their one-of-a-kind partnership, and it should be celebrated by old and new fans alike.