Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Review: Tears for Fears' 'Songs from the Big Chair Super Deluxe Edition'

Like Synchronicity, 1984, and Purple Rain, Songs from the Big Chair was a hit-laden mid-eighties chart monolith. Unlike The Police, Van Halen, and Prince, Tears for Fears did not make their defining statement well into their career. In fact, Big Chair was only their second album. That is an impressive achievement considering that the clanging “Shout”, wistful “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, and woozily romantic “Head over Heels” are three of the very, very best mid-eighties hits (the more dated but more danceable “Mothers Talk” isn’t bad either). None of the album’s less-familiar tracks are as stunning. “The Working Hour” indulges in the big, farty sax work that is one of the least endearing signatures of 1985, and “Broken” is straight-up filler, fusing the big drum sounds of “Mothers Talk” with snippets of melody and lyric that would be used to much better effect in “Head over Heels”, but “I Believe” (later re-recorded and released as a single in the UK) is a decent cocktail jazz torch song and the concluding minimalist synth epic “Listen” ripples with haunting atmosphere.

Tears for Fears did a lot of that kind of stuff during the Songs from the Big Chair era, and it gets aired on a weighty new six-disc super deluxe edition of that album. Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith produced enough unique material around the Big Chair sessions to make Disc One of this set pretty essential. It features the original album plus a wealth of B-sides and bonus tracks from the limited edition cassette incarnation of that core album. The instrumental side of Bowie’s “Heroes” and the more experimental avenues of Prince’s 1999 (think “Something in the Water”) seem to be a guiding light here, and had the group been less pressured to go the wholly commercial route with their second LP, they could have made a more fascinatingly out-there creation by including some of these pieces.

That commerciality is not totally absent from the bonuses, as the non-LP A-side “The Way You Are” makes quite clear (though the group has nothing positive to say about this catchy number in the neat oral history included with the set). That track leads Disc Two, a radio-ready clearing house for single and video mixes of the most popular Big Chair tracks. However, this is where the box set falls into indulgence since the remaining three discs just present different mixes and versions (some complete re-recordings, some live in concert, some live at the BBC) of the LP’s mere eight tracks. Look, “Shout” is a great song and all, but I’m not sure I need thirteen versions of it. The alternate two-disc Deluxe Edition (which has yet to become available for pre-order as of this writing) includes Disc One of the Super-Deluxe set in its entirety and a second helping of assorted tracks strewn throughout. This will probably be the ideal set for most folks.

Presumably providing more value in the Super-Deluxe edition are two DVDs that were not included with the review package I received. One is a 5.1 surround sound mix of the original album and the other is an assortment of documentaries, music videos, TV, and live clips.

Get the Songs from the Big Chair Super Deluxe and Deluxe Editions on Amazon.com here:

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