The Reworking Hour: Songs From The Big Chair

I do enjoy rethinking and resequencing tracklists, but I stumbled onto this Tears For Fears topic by accident. Here on the cusp of The Tipping Point, bookmark this as a fresh way to enjoy the 1985 album that put Tears For Fears on the map in the U.S.: Songs From The Big Chair.

Side One: Some flash, a breather, and a classic

  1. Broken (2:39)
  2. Head Over Heels > Broken (reprise) (4:54)
  3. Listen (6:57)
  4. Everybody Wants To Rule The World (4:11)

I pulled up SFTBC a couple of nights ago. With files inadvertently out of order, I started with Broken > Head Over Heels > Broken (reprise). As it turns out, that’s a pretty great opening sequence.

Listen to all that Broken energy right out of the gate, around 1:40 of instrumental workout serving almost as an overture, followed by the fantastic deceleration and turn into Head Over Heels — only to careen past the Broken theme one more time. The performance and arrangement of this mini-suite commands attention, gives the album some immediate personality, and flashes great songwriting.

The existing transition from the Broken reprise straight into Listen makes it hard to break up without more work, and it’s a good time to take a breath anyway. Let’s keep this seamless trilogy as is.

After the repeated chant at the end of Listen, its cymbal-adjacent wash cleans the sonic palate. The little intro pirhouette of Everybody Wants To Rule The World (EWTRTW) is a perfect transition into what’s next. In this case, what’s next is that now-classic, six-over-four drum groove that propelled one of the defining singles of the ’80s.

With EWTRTW there in the final slot, side one of this Big Chair sticks the landing with authority in an era where albums were constructed with vinyl in mind. The only downside is that it’s a little brief, under 19 minutes. IMO, the transition between the opening trio and the huge single just works too well to refuse here. The lengths and tempos of other tracks don’t lend themselves to squeezing in here, either.

Side Two: Stealth VIPs and a coliseum ending

  1. The Working Hour (6:33)
  2. Mothers Talk (5:07)
  3. I Believe (4:55)
  4. Shout (6:35)

The contemplative sax ushers in side two alone. The Working Hour, a working title for the album, builds as the bass moves beneath that repeating pair of chiming chords. I really like that rhythm guitar line that underpins the proceedings and adds some texture.

Mel Collins is credited along with Will Gregory (who has other sax credits through the album), and I’d bet that’s Mel right toward the end. With just a little rasp, it reminds me of his work on Dire Straits’ Alchemy, recorded only several months before Big Chair.

Mothers Talk ups the tempo. Its agitation shifts from section to section between Roland Orzabal’s guitar and Curt Smith’s bass and the drums/percussion.

I think of these two tracks as the crucial album tracks that maintain Big Chair’s quality beyond the hits, and to be fair, that was their role over 18 months or so as the album blew up. But in reality, the late and re-recorded 1986 single of Mothers Talk did score as a Top 30 hit in the U.S.

Things can only get less animated from there, and I Believe fits the bill nicely. It’s better than many albums’ penultimate tracks — often a stash-the-weakest-cut slot, as you’ve noticed elsewhere. I Believe wasn’t a U.S. single, but it did chart in a few other countries.

I Believe’s full-stop ending (that’s a weird synth chord) represents a perfect setup for the insistent triangle-and-percussion opening of Shout. For a band that up to this point often feels focused on a more individual, intimate experience, Shout is built for audiences and larger spaces. They wanted a singalong, they made a singalong.

Shout wound up more than that, though. Every non-chorus piece of the arrangement keeps things moving and adds interest (does it feel like a 6:35 song to you?), concluding with the guitar solo that deserves its own share of attention.

Shout obviously needed to begin or end an album side. The band decided to open the album with the anthem and to end side two very low-key. This sequence opens with big ’80s drums and bass instead of triangle and percussion, then ends with the catchy thing to send you humming out the door. If you’re looking to come at well-worn favorites from a different angle, try it on sometime.

Broken (2:39)
Head Over Heels > Broken (reprise) (4:54)
Listen (6:57)
Everybody Wants To Rule The World (4:11)

The Working Hour (6:33)
Mothers Talk (5:07)
I Believe (4:55)
Shout (6:35)


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