“Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith parted ways with their soulful and ambitious swan song, Seeds of Love” (Monger) back in 1989. “Orzabal released two records under the Tears For Fears moniker in the mid-nineties, but the band's signature blend of hook-filled anthems and art-pop excess seemed destined to reside eternally in the post-new wave graveyard of the eighties” (Monger).
“Orzabal and Smith [said] the call of lifelong friendship and musical compatibility ‘ended the longest sulk in history’ and…quietly began working together on new material three years ago, comfortable with their new maturity and energized by a sense of balance between career and, as Smith (now a yoga devotee) said, “mental and physical health’” (Olsen).
“Also facilitating the new music was engineer and co-producer Charlton Pettus, whose technical acumen allowed Orzabal and Smith to concentrate on ‘writing and playing together’ so that they could truly create a new Tears For Fears album and not ‘two concurrent solo albums,’ as Orzabal put it. Pettus served as a bit of a mediator as well” (Olsen).
“Then came the film Donnie Darko, a left-field cult hit that featured [a] rendition of the band's 1983 hit ‘Mad World’” (Monger). The “mellow remake…by Gary Jules and Michael Andrews…topped the U.K singles chart over the ‘03 Christmas holiday” (Olsen), prepping the world for a new Tears for Fears release.
“Arista Records was scheduled to put it out in April, but dropped the ball amid reorganization, the merger with Sony Music, and the ouster of Antonio ‘LA’ Reid from the top spot at the label” (Olsen).
“Few would think to match the heaving, synth-heavy boys who lit up the '80s with ‘Head Over Heels’ to this new material. Which is mostly a good thing. The vocals of lead singer Roland Orzabal…still squash all traces of irony in their path, and there's a moodiness to the music, minus a lot of the old broodiness, that borders on the masterly. Yet the sound has changed completely” (La Gorce).
“Tears For Fears have always dabbled in the Beatle-esque, but never as blatantly as on the full peacock-flush of the colorful title cut. Like ELO re-arranging Wings' ‘Uncle Albert,’ it's the first flag in a sea of red signaling the return to form that many deemed unlikely” (Monger). The song combines “soul and alternative rock elements of the band’s earlier sound, with sing-along melodies, fascinating and varied production, and most important, magic” (Olsen). Tears for Fears merges the sounds of “‘Lady Madonna,’ ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ and the Mothers of Invention together under the same tent and comes out the stronger on the other end. The duo’s voices and secure, quirky melodic sense have only grown in width and depth over their time apart” (Olsen).
First single Closest Thing to Heaven was “the first song the reunited duo wrote together” (Olsen). “The rhythmic, mid-tempo tune is a great ‘70s-type Euro-soul number” (Olsen) that “builds off of ‘Sowing the Seeds of Love’’s blueprints—it even utilizes the mid-track reverse drum fill—without coming off as a carbon copy. This is the closest the band's come to crafting a possible hit single in years, and it's a testament to their ‘still flexing’ pop chops they can meld a bittersweet piano-dirge with a sunny seventies soft-rock chorus without sounding contrived” (Monger).
“Old-school overproduction has fallen away in favor of real guitars, pounding pianos, and a melody-driven…sensibility. It's there on…Call Me Mellow” (La Gorce), a slice of “beautiful jangly rock that stretches in an unbroken chain back through the La’s, early R.E.M., to the Beatles and the Byrds” (Olsen).
The song is “only slightly eclipsed by something pleasantly Bacharach-ish on Secret World” (La Gorce), a chunk of “orchestral, poppy perfection” (Olsen). The pair of songs “would sit comfortably on daytime radio, daring other songs to match their ambition and bright, joyous spirit” (Bishop).
“Like their previous work, there is darkness here if you look for it. The echoing beat of Size of Sorrow introduces the line ‘bathe in another man's grave’” (Bishop).
There is also a “dark experimental nature [in] songs like Quiet Ones and The Devil” (Monger). “’Quiet Ones’ has a forceful ringing guitar figure that U2 would be happy to claim, and beguiling phased vocals from Orzabal on the verses, and sweet falsetto dual-vocal choruses” (Olsen). “The Devil” is a “simple piano tune [that] bursts into a fraught drum-heavy chorus” (Bishop).
“But the most mellow and introspective tunes – Who You Are, sung by Curt, and Ladybird - have a warmth that helps the songs flow seductively rather than stutter into self-indulgence” (Bishop).
“Who Killed Tangerine? is more Fab Four-inspired brilliance” (Olsen) “juxtaposing each spooky verse against a chorus reminiscent of ‘Hey Jude’” (Monger). “Mysterious quiet verses…give way to a rousing chorus and even more rousing secondary chorus — this could easily be another single” (Olsen).
“Killing with Kindness has an appealing rough edge amidst the lilting melodicism and Last Days on Earth concludes…the…album…with a gently funky groove and a lovely, spacey keyboard figure” (Olsen) that “lowers us gently back to reality, a restrained hint that Tears For Fears have more tricks hidden up their sleeves” (Bishop).
“Everybody Loves a Happy Ending is the rich, infectious sound of a duo who have not seen their comeback as an excuse for compromise” (Bishop). It “will do little to convert those that winced at Orzabal and Smith's obtuse lyrics and over-the-top production the first time around, but loyal followers, fans of XTC's Apple Venus Vol. 1 and lovers of intricately arranged and artfully executed pop music will find themselves delightfully consumed by this enigmatic group's (final?) chapter” (Monger). “Tears for Fears skirts the has-been trap impressively, translating years of experience into play-it-again, sophisticated modern pop worth paying attention to” (La Gorce).