1993 saw the return of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, the duo who had worked together in Graduate and Tears for Fears since 1979. Only this time around, they weren’t together. Smith left for a solo career and Orzabal soldiered on solo under the Tears for Fears moniker. "He was trading on a brand name, a name that would sell more than his own name. It's no surprise…Roland 'did' most of Seeds of Love too, after all" (Denning).
That album "benefitted hugely from soulful female backing vocals [whereas this is a] one man show [of Orzabal with] session guys, producers and engineers" (Denning). "Orzabal…backs away from the cinematic production of Seeds of Love preferring a more direct and soulful style of pop music that appealed to both adult contemporary and adult alternative radio audiences. While some of the material was a little weak, the record was easily as good as its immediate predecessor" (Erlewine).
"Orzabal is left to fend off existential angst on his own – which he does with amazing grace and integrity" (Manning). "Elemental finds…Roland…in a more agitated state of mind" (Iyer). He’s "no slouch at writing, [though] losing your band-mate and collaborator…must have been a blow" (Denning). "Ever so occasionally, Roland's state of mind surfaces in the songs in ambiguous forms, leaving the songs open to one's own interpretations of what they mean" (Iyer). Orzabal acknowledges the difficult circumstances that surrounded the recording of this album: "‘When most of these songs were written, I'd spend the morning in my lawyer's office, trying to sort out stuff with Curt…and then I'd go start writing with Al’" (Iyer) Griffiths, who played guitar and co-produced the album, along with Tim Palmer. This trio "provide the production techniques, smooth segues and sweeping guitar-keyboard interplay that fans have come to expect from Tears for Fears" (Manning).
"Roland's state of mind, and the change in his outlook has brought out a new feel, a new sound in the band. TFF is no longer about beautiful singles and clean-cut amiability. The disturbance in Roland's mind has resulted in an experimental and unconventional sound…This is a rock album of variegated soundscapes, which are as abstruse as are interesting. It begins with the rather spaced-out title song, followed by Cold and Break It Down Again, back-to-back radio-wonders" (Iyer).
"Roland's discomfort comes up…in the single ‘Break It Down Again’, but this time, in a more positive, more hopeful manner, as he sings of the 'the beauty of decay' (his loss), the fact that things fall apart, but one can find something new, something positive from it – as he puts it in his own words, ‘There's an optimism in that breaking down, that breaking up like a phoenix rising from the ashes’" (Iyer). This "is a proper song, with melody [and] inventive arrangements [that] stands alongside other very good Tears For Fears material" (Denning).
"Mr. Pessimist is probably the most messed up and complicated TFF number ever. It is also one that shows off the band's unique musical craftsmanship" (Iyer).
"Dog's a Best Friend's Dog and Fish Out of Water…are probably the band's only true 'rock' songs" (Iyer). On the latter, "the most powerful song" (Iyer) on the album, "Orzabal doesn't seem to be that thrilled with his musical divorce from Smith" (Manning). "Roland's bluntness is revived in its most seething form" (Iyer). He echoes “sentiments as spiteful as John Lennon's anti-McCartney rant ‘How Do You Sleep.’ ‘With all your cigarettes and fancy cars/You ain't a clue who or what you are,’ Orzabal sings acidly, pinning his ex-partner and counting "one more martyr to the hit parade’" (Manning).
"The album then takes a mindless trip into space (sometimes earthly, sometimes galactic), which seems incomprehensible as well as charming. The vague structure of Gas Giants or the simplistically vague nature of Power…find TFF at an experimental peak" (Iyer). The latter, along with the album’s first two singles, is "replete with melodic free falls, harmonized and overlapped vocals, burbling keyboards and guitar shudders" (Manning).
Brian Wilson Said "inevitably included Beach Boys type vocal harmonies" (Denning), "stretching reverence to the extreme with [its] sad, Smile-inspired embrace" (Manning) as "Orzabal molds his borrowings to fit the mood" (Manning) "shamelessly lifting from the Beatles and the Beach Boys" (Manning). "Nice little Wilsonesque piano lines…harmony parts included…Listen to it, cry tears of joy" (Denning).
"Just when one feels that all is forgiven and forgotten" (Iyer), "the gorgeous Goodnight Song [offers] a more reflective account of the spat [with Smith], with Orzabal expressing abandonment and confusion, and cushioning the hurt with sobbing synth riffs" (Manning). "Disguised in all its heavenliness and well-mannered warmth, Roland sings ‘the sounds we are making are so uninspired…goodnight song played so wrong blame the crowd, they scream so loud so long,’ probably reflecting the older TFF that was in turmoil, that existed before the split, or possibly just mocking meaningless ‘popular’ music" (Iyer).
"Elemental…sees TFF take a different direction, take a different perspective on matters that hurt it most. There is a feeling of being let down and being betrayed, but the album retorts with sarcasm and positivism; it sees the constructiveness that comes hidden with destruction. It is all about change for the better, and this metamorphosis is inspiring" (Iyer).