Reviews

Tears for Fears: 20th Century Masters: The DVD Collection [DVD]

David Medsker

Tears for Fears

20th Century Masters: the DVD Collection [DVD]

Label: Universal
US Release Date: 2004-02-24
UK Release Date: Available as import
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In a recent Simpsons episode, there is a shot panning across a junkyard. There are signs at the top of each pile, each one a pot shot at the hot trend of the moment that will soon overwhelm landfills everywhere. (Heads up, thongs, your end is nigh.) But the big laugh comes at the sight of an empty space, over which a sign stands tall, declaring, "Reserved for DVDs."

I now know what they mean. Universal has just released the most meaningless music DVD ever, taking an extremely successful band, with a large and diverse promotional video library, and releasing it as what is for all intents and purposes a DVD single. 20th Century Masters - The Best of Tears For Fears is, frankly, a joke. It contains a measly five videos, approximately a third as many as the band had in rotation at one point or another on MTV. If you strung the number of plays that "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" received on a daily basis at its peak, it would take longer to watch than this 25-minute DVD. Ye gods.

Sure, it's reasonably priced, going for $7.98 on Amazon.com. But Tears for Fears deserves better than this, especially when the Human League and Pet Shop Boys, both excellent bands but nowhere near as successful as Tears for Fears, are releasing exhaustive DVD compilations of their vids. (Granted, their releases were Canadian, but as long as it's Region 1, it counts.) The Brits, by comparison, got a better deal: they can buy a DVD of Tears Roll Down, the 12-song compilation that Mercury, the band's original label, released in 1992. Would it really have been so hard, or expensive, to release Tears Roll Down in its original form in the States as well? Universal, the band's new "old" label, certainly had no problem releasing ABC's Absolutely ABC compilation in its original form for DVD, and even expanded Rush's Chronicles DVD release. And yet, Tears for Fears, one of the most successful UK pop acts of the '80s, gets the same video treatment as New Edition, Moody Blues, and Billy Ray Cyrus. It simply boggles the mind, but alas.

Four of the five videos are from the band's second and biggest album, 1985's Songs from the Big Chair. Despite advancing considerably in the five years since MTV's debut, music video was still in its infancy, and many of the videos here represent that awkward transition into adolescence too many bands made, where their videos were no longer playful promotional tools but solemn works of art. (To be fair, though, most of Tears for Fears' video output was solemn.) The video for "Shout", for example, finds the band spending most of their time venting their anger on a gorgeous, isolated cliff side, thus making it difficult for the viewer to feel anything resembling frustration when the scenery is so breathtakingly beautiful. Main songwriter Roland Orzabal doesn't help matters with his hilariously overpronounced lip sync job either, though he can be excused since it was his first real lead performance in a video. (Fellow bandmate Curt Smith handled vocals for all three of the videos from the band's first album, The Hurting.) In the final scene, where the band shares a studio singing along with a random group of mums and their kids, keyboardist Ian Stanley looks alarmingly like Simon LeBon. He seems to take great pains to prevent that from happening again in the next three videos.

"Everybody Wants to Rule the World", one of the best driving songs ever, shows Smith, well, driving a lot, his bomber jacket and ponytail wafting in the breeze from his convertible. There's probably a story line in there somewhere, with Smith stopping to make a call on a pay phone in the desert, but it's neither clear nor necessary. The band obviously knew they had a big hit on their hands, and didn't overspend on a splashy video since they knew that, as long as it wasn't jaw droppingly awful, it would get played. And boy, did it get played.

"Head Over Heels", which still sounds marvelous, is the one moment where the band loosens up, with Orzabal trying to flirt with an on-duty librarian with impossibly large eyeglasses. His lip sync job here is much better, and his nervous side glances show some humor in an otherwise preposterous setup of him singing these words to a total stranger in a library. There's a neat shot where Orzabal, shot from the chest up, seemingly floats from the first floor to the second, then back down, perhaps a metaphor for the sensation of being in love. The video also has two other nice details: the sequence showing multiple attempts by Stanley to catch a book without looking (he catches it on the third try), and, of course, the chimp in the Red Sox jersey. It's still unclear why drummer Manny Elias is dressed up as a rabbi, but either way, they're clearly enjoying themselves, for a change.

The tone for "Mothers Talk", released a good nine months after "Head over Heels", is decidedly different. Using a new US remix of the song, the action cuts between the band on a sound stage and a family of three trying to protect itself from the nuclear war depicted in the song's lyrics. The band's look is in stark contrast to their last video: they're all dressed head to toe in black, and everyone is, if not dancing, at least moving about a lot. Even Elias is standing and moving about as he pretends to play his drums. It appears that, when the Cure released the videos for "In Between Days" and "Close to Me" in late 1985, Tears for Fears were taking detailed notes.

By 1989, when the band resurfaced with their excellent third album

The Seeds of Love

, music video had changed exponentially. If high concept vids like Duran Duran's "The Wild Boys" were an anomaly in 1984, they were the norm by 1989, due almost exclusively to David Fincher. (He's certainly still on the Christmas card lists of Aerosmith and Madonna.) For their six minute-plus "Sowing the Seeds of Love", the band enlisted Jim Blashfield to assemble a video as grandiose as the song, and he succeeded. Dressed in a loud shirt and wearing his hair in vintage late '80s post-modern style (big, big bangs), Orzabal is surrounded by flying cellos, spinning Buddhas, and a phalanx of Ankhs. What's remarkable about the video is the near absence of edits. Where videos today have about a hundred cuts a minute, "Sowing the Seeds of Love" flows like one of those Julian Temple videos that are designed to look like one long shot (think Janet Jackson's "When I Think of You"). To do that with a six-minute song would be unthinkable today, which makes the video even more refreshing in retrospect.

20th Century Masters may contain the videos of Tears for Fears' biggest chart hits, but that's hardly the point. The fans of the band were fans of music video, and to cut out such worthy tracks as "Pale Shelter", "Change" (their big MTV breakthrough), and "Woman in Chains" is a gross disservice, especially when anyone who ponies up the money for this collection would gladly have spent an extra eight bucks for the rest of their videos. Eventually, there will no doubt be a "Very Best of" video compilation, which means this DVD will soon be landfill, just like The Simpsons prophesied. True Tears For Fears fans can only hope it happens sooner than later.

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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