And so they returned to us at last. Firstly, lets put the cynical and lazy critics straight on the facts - Tears For Fears did NOT reform after the success of Gary Jules' version of "Mad World" in 2003. Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith had decided to end their decade-long feud ("the biggest sulk of all time") and buried the hatchet back in 2000 when they began writing and recording new material on a transatlantic basis (Smith lives in the US, Orzabal still lives in the UK). The album took over two years to complete and its release was then delayed further due to record company entanglements. Eventually they secured a UK deal with the small independent label Gut Records, but with no major label behind them to wave the corporate magic wand and place their opening single "Closest Thing To Heaven" into the top ten, the release of both single and album became a somewhat muted event with little publicity or fanfare. In all fairness, TFF themselves neglected to put much effort into promotion during the UK release in early 2005 other than a video, a couple of minor television appearances and only a week of live concert dates. They spent far longer promoting the album in the US (released six months earlier), no doubt hoping to replicate the huge success they'd first enjoyed there some twenty years before. Their efforts were in vain this time around though, and perhaps this tired them out by the time they eventually began promotion in the UK. The choice of single to be released here first was also perhaps not the wisest, and even though "Closest Thing To Heaven" is mostly a great song, it does have a weak chorus and isn't the best primer for the album. The album's title track is better and was released as the second single along with the flowery "Call Me Mellow", but this was virtually impossible to find in any shops. However, there are other tracks on this album that simply scream "hit single", such as "Who Killed Tangerine" and the lush, orchestral "Secret World".
Despite very minor flaws, the album as a whole is magnificent, neither desperate to imitate the sound of 1985's "Songs From The Big Chair" (their biggest success) nor opting for the complicated, less commercial arrangements of 1989's epic "The Seeds Of Love". In fact "Everybody Loves A Happy Ending" is a completely surprising album, and yet it is the kind of album TFF might have made in the early 1990s had they stayed together - still awash with Beatles references but more so now to ELO, XTC, Bacharach, and even a splash of Leonard Cohen. They're overplaying the pastiche gimmick in places, although bands like Oasis have made an entire career out of being little more than a pastiche act - whereas TFF have already long since proven their distinction. But nobody would ever guess that this is the same band who made "The Hurting" back in 1983 - and for a band that are best remembered for possessing a dark and gloomy quality, this is an astonishingly mellow album. The touches of drama are still there though, and "Killing With Kindness", "Quiet Ones", and the melancholic "Ladybird" (my three personal favourites) will probably satisfy fans of that harder, darker side of Roland Orzabal's songwriting ability. However, the album is generally more upbeat and is "classic" sounding rather than experimental or obscure. Though the songwriting still comes mainly from Orzabal, there's reasonable input from Smith - never known for his songwriting abilities in the past - who is credited here as co-writer on most tracks including a "solo" track from his non-TFF projects which actually isn't bad (and a vast improvement on his awful 1993 solo album "Soul On Board"). Even the album's finale takes a different turn than usual, as most TFF albums tend to end on a climactic or sombre note. "Last Days On Earth" may sound like it's going to be a doom-laden ending, but is actually amazingly breezy and refreshing, bringing the album to a fulfilling close. The UK release then has two extra tracks ("Pullin' A Cloud" and "Out Of Control"), which are neither bad nor brilliant, and intended as B-sides that were never used.
Since their heyday, TFF have been far more influential on more recent bands than most people realise, and undeniably with current worldwide favourites Coldplay. Perhaps if TFF had made something along the lines of Coldplay's "Speed Of Sound" in 2005 (which has TFF written all over it), then they would have been the comeback heroes of the decade. Then again, even the finest record can fail to make an impact without a large, dedicated record company behind it....though perhaps too much emphasis is placed on chart success which most people mistake for artistic success. In an age where the singles chart is a completely manufactured joke, and albums tend to sell on the basis of whoever is flavour of the month with the pompous overrated monkeys at Q Magazine, commercial chart success is often just a symbol of an intensive marketing campaign (hype) and has little to do with the quality of the music itself.
As nicely put as it is, the title of the album certainly has an air of finality to it....almost implying "we've grown up, we've made up, and now the show's over". Perhaps TFF truly have worked through all of the angst and issues that made them famous in their twenties and bitter enemies in their thirties, and are now more mellow as they mature into middle age. Even so, I can only hope that Orzabal and Smith will not be put off by this album's relatively muted reception as it genuinely was one of the hidden gems of 2005. Hopefully they will see this as a mere stepping stone to producing even greater work together in the future. I think that would make the eventual ending even happier.